Feb 26 2011

“These Nine People were the Perfect Culprits”


Since the verdict declared on February 16, support for the Reykjavik 9 has been growing, and the case seems far from over; the question now remains whether the four who have been sentenced will appeal to the Supreme Court of Iceland against the judgement by the Reykjavik District Court.

The Fresh Outlook’s Managing Editor, Shayoni Sarkar, continues to speak to key figures surrounding the Reykjavik 9. In an exclusive interview, Saving Iceland, a network of people from different nationalities championing the causes of the country, speaks about the Reykjavik 9.

Shayoni: Can you explain Reykjavik 9? How do peaceful protests end up facing charges of ‘threatening the government’?

SI: Reykjavik 9 is a group of nine people that took part in one action together with 20 other people on December 8, 2008. That action was entering the Parliament. That might sound like a big deal but it is not in Iceland because it is a constitutional right that every citizen can go to the public gallery of the Parliament and listen to the members of it. The action was, as I understand, totally unorganised, but people seem to have heard about it by word of mouth. The reason why nine of the 30 people ended up being charged for “attacking” the Parliament amongst other accusations is that the government had to punish someone for what happened that winter [after the country faced a banking collapse in 2008] and these 9 people were the perfect culprits. The case stinks of political persecution.

Shayoni: These accusations have been alleged to stem from ‘paranoia’ amongst those in charge. What is your comment on this? There are speculations that the Speaker and prosecutor are ‘political allies’, so-to-speak, how does this affect the case?

SI: In Iceland, the people in power are all connected: friends, political allies, blood related, or all of it. So relations like the one you mention is nothing that we are not used to. But of course, it is obvious that the whole case is a revenge of the power elite that want to give the people here in Iceland an example as to how they will be punished in the future for protests and actions against the structures of the government.

Shayoni: This wasn’t the only protest, several others also protested about the 2008 financial crisis. There have also been significant protests in January 2009. How is it that none of the other protests face such charges while the RVK9 do?

SI: It was easy in the RVK9 case to pick out 9 people and say that they took part in something violent since there were so few witnesses of the action, except the ones that took part in it themselves and the police and the guards of the parliament. So, the RVK9 were perfect to punish for the whole uprising of thousands of people in the winter 2008 and 2009. No one else has faced charges.

Shayoni: Can you explain the mood of Iceland’s citizens after the banking sector collapsed? How did the government react?

SI: It seems like the government was in a total panic after the economic collapse. They were also desperate to save their asses, personally and politically. The image that the government had been feeding its citizens had collapsed with the economic collapse. So, the government were facing very angry people that had realized that they had been lied to for a long time. Many people were afraid and didn’t know what to believe and what to do. That made the situation unpredictable.

Shayoni: Considering that the Reykjavik 9 were informed a year later that they were to be charged according to Article 100; how did this news go down with not just the accused but the Icelandic population in general?

SI: The Icelandic government’s tactic to uncomfortable situations, questions or issues is silence. The government did not properly answer who, inside of the Parliament, was responsible for [instigating] the charge. A lot of people in Iceland were sure that RVK9 must have committed a crime since they were being accused of one. Even though the power structures have shown how they [laws and legal charges] are a tool used against the lower classes, even then most people still believe that some of it must work properly. But after this case, I think many have changed their minds about it.

Shayoni: The Speaker, in a letter, condemned the ‘violent’ nature of the protests. Subsequently, the evidence did not portray any scenes of violence, particularly camera phone footage. How did the Speaker try to justify her position?

SI: Silence is her answer.

Shayoni: What controversies surround the situation at the moment (i.e. security footage, police brutality, etc)? Are there any specific angles you feel have not been represented enough? Is there anything of interest that might not have been reported in the media or escaped proper reportage which would lend the story a different perspective?

SI: For this question, I would direct you to the English blog from the trial: www.rvk9.org/tag/trial/

Shayoni: Do you feel that if there had been enough media force, both in Iceland and internationally, this trial wouldn’t have gone ahead as it did and would the government have been held further to account for its actions?

SI: There are two big newspapers in Iceland; the editors of both wrote editorials against the accused. According to that, they intended to steer the discussion to the direction of condemnation towards this political judgement, not only by the courts, but also by the society.

Shayoni: The Prime Minister has expressed ‘sadness’ that this was the only trial even remotely connected to the economic climate in the country and although condemned the violence, has also made it very clear that it was in no way a ‘threat to the nation’. How did the rest of the government react and what were their reasons for continuing proceedings?

SI: The government claim that they can not interfere with any court cases. A lot of members of the parliament were pro the court case. There were only a few that were not. But that changed after the first days in the court as proceedings took place; because then it was obvious that the case was shameful for the state. After abstaining from comment about it for a whole year, the prime minister gave some populist comment about how sad it was that those nine people were the only ones that have been taken to court since the collapse but not any one of the bankers or politicians at that time.

Shayoni: What are your comments on the prosecution’s allegations that say the Rvk9 had pre-meditated ‘forced attacks’ on Parliament?

SI: In the winter of 2008-2009, a lot of spontaneous actions took place. It is a big misunderstanding that this was an organized attack on the Parliament. Most of these people didn’t even know each other.

Shayoni: How have international organizations and other countries reacted to the Rvk9 case as it surely exemplifies the suppression of democratic free speech?

SI: Mostly, alternative websites and papers abroad have talked about the case. It has been hard work to get any of the big media to show it with the slightest interest. But anarchistic web sites reacted immediately.

Shayoni: The Rvk9 have been praised for their political activism. It was the protests during that time that toppled the conservative government embroiled in the banking collapse. With protesters working towards democratic processes of election and political consciousness, it is unfair to think that they are being accused in such a manner. What is your view on this as someone who has witnessed the situation and is well-versed in it? Were the Rvk9 were targeted simply to serve as a ‘warning’ to future protesters?

SI: Yes, the RVK9 were supposed to be a warning to future protesters for sure. But the action itself, when 30 people went in the Parliament, is far from being the most daring and powerful action made that winter. The action itself also failed. The people in RVK9 claim that they would hardly remember it if they had not been charged for it.

Shayoni: How does the verdict, that has dismissed charges of article 100, affect the supporters of the Rvk9?

SI: The few people that saw something wrong with the case managed to push the truth about the case forward to the rest of the society and that changed the general attitude towards it. In the end, so many people were angry because of it that it would have probably ended up as another uprising if the RVK9 had been found guilty of attacking the Parliament.

Shayoni: After the financial storm there was to be undertaken a concept of a ‘New Iceland’; is this not a complete irony considering how the Rvk9 are being charged?

SI: The concept of a ‘New Iceland’ does not exist as a result of a revolution in spirit or structures; it is just one more attempt of the Icelandic government to hide the truth from its citizens and keep on doing their business in their same old way but under a new, but false, flag.

See also the SI analysis and declaration of solidarity with the RVK: A Spade is a Spade, Repression is Repression