From Iceland — Justice Minister Declares "War Against Organised Crime" Amidst Downtown Violence

Justice Minister Declares “War Against Organised Crime” Amidst Downtown Violence

Published November 23, 2022

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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Following a horrifying group stabbing at Bankastræti Club over the weekend, including video of the attack that may have been leaked by someone in the police, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has “declared war against organised crime”, and a bill on expanding police powers has been submitted to Parliament under those auspices.

The stabbings–wherein a group of masked men pushed their way into the club, stabbed three people, and then quickly left–is a part of an ongoing and violent feud between two groups of people in Reykjavík. 27 people are now in police custody over the incident, and the police will be on high alert this weekend.

Jón has been pushing to arm the police further as well as give them expanded powers under the guise of “pre-emptive investigations” since last September‘s foiled suspected terrorist plot.

For the unfamiliar, “pre-emptive investigations” would grant the police the power to begin investigations of anyone they suspected may at some point plan to commit a crime. In other countries where this has been tried, the results have been mixed, and pre-emptive policing has been heavily criticised as not reducing crime while giving police broader powers.

Jón contends that he is simply proposing a bill that would give police close to the same powers they have in other other countries, but did not mention specifics. He said these expanded investigative powers would only concern organised crime or “threats against the state”, and would allow police to investigate those they believe are planning to engage in such activities.

Although the ruling coalition has approved the bill for submission to the parliamentary floor next week, it is likely that it will be contentious. Þorbjörg Sigríður Gunnlaugsdóttir, an MP for the Reform Party, has pointed out that Iceland’s prisons are overcrowded, with some 400 people waiting to serve their sentences, saying that the Minister should perhaps focus instead on this issue.

Pirate Party MP Lenya Rún Taha Karim has also criticised the bill, suggesting instead that the government should “build stronger social support networks and systems that prevent people from getting bored into crime in the first place. Harm reduction with a dash of humanity.”

Sema Erla Serdar, an activist and the chair of the refugee support group Solaris, pointed out on Facebook that “the war against terrorism lost. The war on drugs lost. The Minister of Justice will also lose the ‘war’ against organised crime if he intends to target young people, who already experience not belonging to society, by marginsalising them further, isolating them, and shunning them from society.”

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