Iceland scandal over MPs' crude and sexist bar talk

  • Published
Protest in Reykjavik, 1 Dec 18Image source, RUV
Image caption,
Reykjavik protest - the placard says "This parliament is a shocker"

There are calls for several Icelandic MPs to resign after they were recorded using crude language to describe female colleagues and a disabled activist.

Icelanders were especially shocked that the MPs' targets included ex-MP Freyja Haraldsdottir, a disabled woman and well-known disability rights activist.

Iceland has long been seen as a beacon for women's rights and has a female prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir.

Four Centre Party MPs, including an ex-PM, apologised for the crude language.

Image source, oskarsson
Image caption,
Freyja Haraldsdottir expressed pain on Facebook over the abusive language

On Facebook Ms Haraldsdottir - who has osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) - said former Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson had apologised to her personally.

But she said the apology did not go far enough. "To apologise, while trying to explain, explain, and just lie about what happened, is not an apology."

"There are a thousand and one ways to express differences of opinion other than mocking a woman's body and appearance," she wrote on Facebook (in Icelandic).

Society in shock

The four Centre Party MPs and two MPs from the People's Party - all opposition politicians - were secretly recorded by a member of the public in a Reykjavik bar, Klaustur.

They are heard repeatedly using the word "bitch" and sexually-charged language. A woman MP was in the group, but did not make similarly offensive comments.

The anonymous eavesdropper sent the recording to Icelandic media, and it then went viral on social media. He said he recorded them on his mobile phone because he was shocked by the language they used, the Iceland Monitor reported.

The MPs' conversation was more than three hours long.

Image source, magnusson
Image caption,
A protest rally filled the square outside parliament on Saturday

On Saturday about 1,000 people protested against the MPs involved, at a rally in Iceland's Parliament Square.

Anna Margret Björnsson, a reporter at Iceland Monitor, told the BBC that "most Icelanders are very shocked and offended" by the recording.

For nine years Iceland has topped the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index, which tracks progress towards gender equality.

Ex-PM in hot water again

The two People's Party MPs have been expelled from their party, but they plan to remain in parliament as independents.

In the recording one of the group allegedly mocks Ms Haraldsdottir's disability by imitating a seal. According to Mr Gunnlaugsson, the sound came from a chair being moved, not from one of the MPs.

Image source, RUV
Image caption,
Ex-PM Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson resigned in 2016

Mr Gunnlaugsson was embroiled in a big scandal when the Panama Papers were published in April 2016.

He resigned as PM after the leaks from law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed that he owned an offshore company with his wife, but had not declared that on entering parliament.

On Facebook he complained (in Icelandic) on 28 November about the secret recording in the bar. "Most serious, however, is the fact that Iceland is conducting interceptions of politicians' private conversations," he wrote.

'No intention to hurt'

He and the three other Centre Party MPs sent a joint apology to the media, saying "it was not our intent to hurt anyone, and it might be clear that this talk is inexcusable".

"We will focus on learning from this", they said, apologising further to their party colleagues and families.

At Saturday's rally a Reykjavik city councillor, Sanna Magdalena Mörtudottir, said "I want to hear the voices of everybody else, not arrogant, powerful, white middle-class men who have been allowed to rule this society for too long".

Image source, RUV
Image caption,
City councillor Mörtudottir condemned "arrogant, powerful, white middle-class men"

Bryndis Snaebjörnsdottir, head of a disabilities association called Throskahjalp, told the BBC her colleagues and disabled Icelanders generally were "quite shocked" by the recording.

"It was hate speech. It was so awful to listen to MPs imitating animal noises, making jokes about a disabled woman who is a big fighter for the rights of people with disabilities," she said.

"All the MPs who were there should leave parliament," she said. She noted that disability benefit in Iceland is lower than unemployment benefit - 243,000 krona (£1,554; $1,976) a month, compared with 270,000 krona for the unemployed.

"Now we're wondering if it's because of those attitudes of MPs," she said. "We don't trust those people, it's unforgivable."

Ms Björnsson said "Iceland may be known as a country of feminism and gender equality, but although things are probably better here than in many places there's still a long way to go, in matters of equal pay, punishment for sexual offenders, how rape victims are often treated and how women are spoken to and treated on a daily basis."

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.