CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Iceland

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Last updated on 01.01.2017 at 19:32

Iceland-Overview

Iceland has a strong democratic tradition and a culture of participation and activism. While the country has seen several corruption scandals in recent years, most recently exposed by the Panama Papers leaks, each time there has been a strong civic response that has led to rapid political change.

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The Civic Space Developments

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Association

Article 74 of the Constitution protects the right to form associations for any lawful purpose without prior permission, including trade unions.

Article 74 of the Constitution protects the right to form associations for any lawful purpose without prior permission, including trade unions. It also protects associations from dissolution by administrative decision, meaning that a proper legal process must be followed to dissolve an association. The freedom of association is generally upheld, and there are many CSOs that operate freely and closely cooperate with the government. More than 80 per cent of the workforce is a union member.

Peaceful Assembly

The Constitution’s Article 74 also protects the freedom of peaceful assembly, but specifies that the police may attend public gatherings, and open-air gatherings may be banned if there is a fear of rioting.

The Constitution’s Article 74 also protects the freedom of peaceful assembly, but specifies that the police may attend public gatherings, and open-air gatherings may be banned if there is a fear of rioting. There have been occasional failures to realise this right: in 2002, US Falun Gong followers were banned from travelling to Iceland to take part in a protest during a Chinese presidential violence, and in 2005, there were some reports of police violence against protesters trying to halt the construction off the Kárahjúkar hydro plant. In the main, however, Iceland’s strong protest tradition, which has often involved the holding of large scale, noisy demonstrations outside the parliament building, has continued unabated. In 2015, 10,000 people joined in protests after Iceland’s prime minister was implicated in the Panama Papers revelations; the prime minister subsequently resigned. Later that year, thousands of women walked out of work and gathered outside parliament to protest at the gender pay gap. Historically, the government intervened on a number of occasions to block or temporarily ban strikes of workers in key industries, such as aviation and fishing, despite the constitutional right to strike. However, there now seems to be a cross-party agreement that the government should allow strikes, and many took place in 2015. There was mass participation in a constitutional reform process that started in 2009 and used crowdsourcing techniques to enable direct citizen voice, but after the draft was approved in a 2012 referendum, it was blocked by parliament.

Expression

The freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 73 of the Constitution. Reservations are made on the grounds of public order, state security and the protection of health, morals and the rights or reputation of others, but these must be consistent with Iceland’s democratic traditions.

The freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 73 of the Constitution. Reservations are made on the grounds of public order, state security and the protection of health, morals and the rights or reputation of others, but these must be consistent with Iceland’s democratic traditions. The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, passed unanimously by parliament in 2010, established progressive freedom of expression and media freedom laws, and protects investigative journalists. In 2015, the permissive position on the freedom of expression was expanded further, when blasphemy laws were abolished. There are a range of diverse media, with both party-owned and independent newspapers, and privately-owned radio and TV stations. State broadcaster RÚV has autonomy and remains the most trusted news source, but there is growing concern about the concentration of media ownership, and the potential for bias: Morgunblaðið, the oldest newspaper, is seen as representing the powerful fishing industry, for example, while one company now controls most of the main private broadcast outlets and a high-circulation free paper. In common with print media in many countries, the advent of the digital era has left print media facing stiff online competition, which limits resources for investigative journalism. Defamation remains a criminal offence.