Aug 09 2006

War on Innocent Tourists Observed at Kárahnjukar Protest

Reykjavik Grapevine

As usual Reykjavik Grapevine has regrettable problems with getting some of their facts right, but still worth a read.[Ed.]

A series of dubious tactics by law enforcement officials in the area around the Kárahnjukar dam protests have left protestors and conservationists throughout Iceland screaming “foul”.

Local law enforcement officials began to get involved with the peaceful protest on Monday, August 31 (sic), when the Seyðisfjörður police-force arrested 14 individuals from the protest-camp, accusing them of entering a closed off Kárahnjúkar work area and disturbing the peace there.

Contractors pressed charges against the 14 protestors, who were released later that day, and the Egilsstaðir police are currently in the process of investigating the alleged crimes.

Based on the charges put forward by contractors working on the Kárahnjúkar dam, the Seyðisfjörður sýslumaður, (rural position: something between a sheriff and councilman), Lárus Bjarnason, issued a statement that same day stating that Seyðisfjörður police had successfully removed all protestors from their camp and dissolved it following requests from local landowners.

According to the statement, his decision to close down the camp was made in light of several and continuous alleged illegal activities of the protestors and is grounded in the 15th article of Icelandic police laws, which ensures the police a right to prevent people from dwelling in certain areas in order to ensure public safety and thwart illegal activities.

An NFS report quoted Egilsstaðir senior policeman Óskar Bjartmarz as saying that evacuating the remaining twelve protestors from their camp went smoothly. They were transferred to Egilsstaðir, where their confiscated equipment is was still being kept at the time of writing. He went on record saying that most of the protestors were foreigners and that the police would continue to monitor them in case they decide to return to their protests.

The Iceland Nature Conservation Association in turn issued a press release, harshly criticizing the police force’s recent actions against protestors and other tourists travelling the highlands north of Vatnajökull.

“The association emphasizes that citizens of democratic societies have an unquestionable right to peaceful protest and that officials should treat them with utmost respect.” The association also criticized police advances against people travelling around the area, stating that they’ve repeatedly harassed them, going so far as searching their cars.

“Members of the public have an unquestionable right to travel the area unharassed, as long as they clean up after themselves and stay out of pronounced work areas. The Iceland Nature Conversation Association encourages the government not to let the war on Icelandic nature now taking place at Kárahnjúkar and in the highlands turn into a war on innocent tourists.”

Andrea Ólafsdóttir, spokesperson for the Íslandsvinir group and one of the organizers of the ten day long ‘family camp’ for protestors that took place at the end of July commented to the Grapevine that closing down the protest camp was surely an ill-founded, if not wholly illegal move by the police force.

“The camp was 4 kilometres from any work-area. These actions are comparable to evacuating a village because a few of its inhabitants are suspected of foul play – it doesn’t make sense and isn’t justifiable however you choose to look at it.”

Ólafsdóttir, who left the area by the end of July, also states that she has received reports of police officers using force against the protestors to the point of brutality.

“Among other things, I’ve heard reports that a female protestor was clubbed by a police officer that I sincerely believe. I doubt she has hard evidence to support her story, but hopefully she does. It would be awful to let the police get away with such illegal activities.”

The Grapevine has been unable to maintain contact with any sources at the protest camp, as computers and agents of communication—including, reportedly, GSM phones—have been confiscated.