From Iceland — Bjarni Ben's Facebook Posts About Alþingi Encampment Cause Uproar

Bjarni Ben’s Facebook Posts About Alþingi Encampment Cause Uproar

Published January 22, 2024

Photo by
Bjarni Benediktsson

The head of Solaris, an aid organisation for refugees and asylum seekers in Iceland, is calling out a recent Facebook tirade by Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson as falling under the definition of hate speech in the penal code.

Bjarni’s original post on January 19 took aim at the small encampment that has taken root in Austurvöllur, the square in front of Alþingi, in recent weeks. There, Palestinians living in Iceland and supporters of a cease fire and for the government to help remove Palestinians from Gaza via family reunification, have camped, slept and protested peacefully since December 27, 2023. Several Palestinian flags have been erected around their tents to draw attention to their cause.

On Facebook, Bjarni called the existence of the camp a “disaster”, and lodged that it’s “completely unacceptable that the City of Reykjavík has given permission for the camp on this sacred place between the statue of Jón Sigurðsson and Alþingi.” The foreign minister goes on to remind those protesting — with permission from city authorities — that they ought to remember they’re in a country that receives a large number of asylum seeker applications.

“The next thing that needs to happen in this issue is to tighten the rules on asylum seekers and harmonize what happens with neighboring countries,” Bjarni writes. “Border control needs to be increased. The current system is completely out of control, both in terms of costs and the number of applications.”

Solaris chairperson Sema Erla Serdaroglu says that Bjarni’s post is dangerous and can encourage hostility and hatred towards refugees. “This rhetoric that Bjarni maintains is at least a dangerous rhetoric, which can promote and even encourage hostility and hatred towards refugees and in the worst cases simply promote violence, because it includes, among other things, dehumanization of this group in question and accusations which are not supported by any arguments,” Sema Erla told RÚV.

Sema Erla said Solaris has seen an uptick in anti-asylum seeker sentiment circulating primarily on social media.

Bjarni enters the chat

Though he had been silent and refused interviews following his Jan. 19 post, Bjarni took to Facebook once again on Jan. 22 to clap back at Sema Erla’s comments on his original screed.

In his new post, Bjarni celebrates that Reykjavík Mayor Einar Þorsteinsson seems to agree with him about the appropriateness of the encampment. He also says that it’s a “complete exhaustion of democratic discussion” when people criticise his views posted publicly online because “people are free to have different opinions.”

Bjarni further calls Sema Erla’s criticism of his comments “a good example of polarizatino in public debate, where suggestions about obvious flaws in the asylum seeker system lead to accusations of a lack of empathy, racism and incitement of violence.”

He continues: “There is a growing number of people who tell me that the current language has become so cruel that they are reluctant to reveal their opinions on various issues. This is especially true on social media. It is in such circumstances that there is a risk that out of stock and real extremes, which we have fortunately been largely free of in Iceland, manifest

So, speech is free and great in a democracy, so long as you’re not commenting on something that Bjarni Ben said freely. Got it.

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