PR Political Rights 37 40
CL Civil Liberties 57 60
Last Year's Score & Status
94 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Iceland is a parliamentary democracy with a long history of upholding political rights and civil liberties. However, links between elected representatives and business interests remain a concern, as does the concentration of private media ownership.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • A record number of refugees—numbering nearly 4,000 people—reportedly arrived in Iceland during the year. The government sometimes struggled to provide services for newly arrived refugees due to the unprecedented volume of arrivals.
  • In December, the Minister of Justice announced that police would be authorized to carry stun guns. The announcement came amid reports of a “slight increase” in violent crime during the year.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The president serves as a largely ceremonial chief of state, is directly elected to a four-year term, and is not subject to term limits. President Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson was reelected in June 2020 with 92.2 percent of the vote.

The prime minister is the head of government. The leader of the ruling party or coalition usually becomes prime minister; the legitimacy of the prime minister rests primarily on the conduct of the parliamentary polls. The current prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement (LGM), first took office in 2017. The governing coalition—composed of the Independence Party (IP), the LGM, and the Progressive Party—kept its majority following parliamentary elections in September 2021, with Jakobsdóttir retaining her leadership position.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The 63-member unicameral Parliament is elected for four-year terms.

Parliamentary elections were held in September 2021, and saw the governing coalition keep its majority, with the IP winning 16 seats, the Progressive Party winning 13, and the LGM winning 8. After several weeks of negotiations, the parties agreed to renew their coalition.

The elections were generally considered free and fair, but were marked by procedural irregularities. In the country’s northwest electoral district, extremely close results led to a recount the day after the election, resulting in five candidates—whose electoral victories had been announced earlier that day—losing their seats to other candidates from the same parties. The legality of the recount came into question after flaws in the district’s vote counting process were discovered, including the officials’ failure to seal the ballots following the initial count. Parliament confirmed the validity of the recount in November.

Municipal elections were held in May 2022 and saw a voter turnout of 63 percent nationwide.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4.004 4.004

The constitution, the election law of 2000, and related legislation establish a clear and detailed framework for conducting elections. Electoral laws are implemented impartially by a variety of national and regional authorities. However, the division of responsibilities between the relevant bodies is not always well defined.

A candidate who lost his parliamentary seat following the recount of the September 2021 parliamentary election results has submitted a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding alleged flaws in the counting process.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4.004 4.004

Political parties form and operate freely, rising and falling according to political developments and the will of the public. Several new parties contested the 2021 parliamentary election, though no representatives from those parties were elected.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

Opposition parties can gain power through free elections. However, the IP has only rarely lost its status as the largest party in Parliament and has been included in all but one governing coalition since 1991.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 3.003 4.004

No military, foreign, or religious entities exert undemocratic influence over voters’ choices. However, some politicians and parties are closely linked with businesses, which in turn exert significant political influence. In one example, former fisheries minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson was closely affiliated with Samherji, an Icelandic fishing company that was implicated in a scheme to bribe Namibian officials in 2019. In 2022, some high-profile politicians drew criticism for supporting a criminal investigation into four journalists related to their work reporting on the Samherji scandal.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4.004 4.004

All adult Icelandic citizens may vote in local and national elections. Electoral law amendments enacted in January 2022 allow foreigners to vote in municipal elections if they have been residents for at least three years and removed the waiting period for citizens of Nordic countries residing in Iceland.

The interests of women and LGBT+ people are well represented in politics. Following the 2021 parliamentary election, women make up nearly 48 percent of Parliament.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4.004 4.004

The freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3.003 4.004

While Iceland maintains robust anticorruption laws, public officials and major companies have engaged in corrupt behavior. Some officials implicated in corrupt or unsavory behavior have continued to serve in government.

In 2018, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) published a report urging the government to strengthen regulations on accepting third-party gifts and criticizing the inadequate enforcement of conflict-of-interest rules. New conflict-of-interest legislation for ministers, their advisers, and permanent secretaries entered into force in January 2021, as did a new law protecting whistleblowers. However, according to a GRECO report published in December 2022, the government has not sufficiently addressed the recommendations made in the 2018 report.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3.003 4.004

Iceland made changes to its Information Act in 2013 to strengthen existing legislation on transparency and freedom of information. However, the act has been criticized by press freedom advocates as having weak provisions. In the past, public officials have sought to conceal information that may be embarrassing or implicate them in wrongdoing.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 3.003 4.004

The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. The autonomous Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV) competes with private radio and television stations. Private media ownership is highly concentrated, with the media company 365 controlling most major private television and radio outlets.

Reports emerged in May 2021 claiming that Samherji, a large Icelandic fishing company implicated in a 2019 corruption scandal, had tried to undermine and control public debate by spying on, intimidating, and attacking the credibility of journalists and civil society organizations that had reported on the corruption allegations. In February 2022, police in Akureyri, where Samherji is headquartered, announced that four journalists who had reported on the Samherji scandal were “official suspects” in a breach-of-privacy investigation. The police allege that, while investigating the corruption scandal, the journalists violated the privacy of a Samherji employee; the journalists have denied the allegations. Press freedom groups have expressed concern that the investigation represents an attempt to suppress investigative journalism. The investigation remained ongoing at year’s end.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, which is generally upheld in practice. Around 60 percent of Icelanders belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

Academic freedom is respected, and the education system is free of excessive political involvement.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4.004 4.004

People in Iceland may freely discuss personal views on sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of assembly is generally upheld. In recent years, however, police have faced criticism for arresting or forcefully dispersing peaceful protesters under a broadly worded provision of the Police Law of 1996.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) may form, operate, and fundraise freely, and frequently inform policy discussions.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4.004 4.004

The labor movement is robust, with more than 80 percent of all eligible workers belonging to unions. Most unions have the right to strike, except for the National Police Federation.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4.004 4.004

The judiciary is generally independent. Judges are proposed by an Interior Ministry selection committee, are formally appointed by the president, and are not subject to term limits. However, in 2017, former justice minister Sigríður Andersen interfered in the selection process for the Court of Appeals when she selected nominees who were considered unqualified. In 2020, the ECtHR ruled that the government violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) when a defendant was judged by one of Andersen’s nominees.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4.004 4.004

The law does not provide for trial by jury, but many trials and appeals use panels of several judges. Prison conditions generally meet international standards.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4.004 4.004

Police are generally responsive to incidents of violence. War and insurgencies are not a concern. Violent crime is rare, though a slight increase in both gun- and knife-related violence was recorded in 2022. The Minister of Justice announced in December that, for protection from the “growing threat” of weapons-related crime, police would be authorized to carry stun guns.

In September 2022, police announced that four men had been arrested for allegedly planning to commit a domestic terrorist attack; two remained in custody until December, when they were released after being indicted on terrorism-related charges.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3.003 4.004

The constitution states that all people shall be treated equally before the law, regardless of sex, religion, ethnic origin, race, or other status.

The Directorate of Immigration has repeatedly been accused of using excessive force in carrying out deportations. In 2019, authorities deported an Albanian family—including a heavily pregnant woman who had received medical certification that she was unfit to fly—even though an appeal against their deportation was still under consideration. In 2022, the decision to deport the woman despite her medical status was deemed illegal, and the state agreed to provide her with financial compensation. In November, an Iraqi family seeking asylum in Iceland was deported to Greece; video footage of the deportation showed one member of the family, who is disabled, being forcibly removed from his wheelchair. The family returned to Iceland in December after a court ruled that their deportation had been illegal.

The rate of refugee recognition in Iceland is low compared to other northern European countries. A record number of refugees—totaling approximately 4,000 people—arrived in Iceland during 2022. Although refugees are eligible to receive government services, including housing and employment support, the government sometimes struggled to provide such services in 2022.

Immigrants who do not fluently speak Icelandic often face barriers to employment. Until 2019, noncitizens were prohibited from employment in the public sector.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of movement is constitutionally protected and respected in practice. Although travel to and from Iceland was affected by COVID-19-related regulations, a total lockdown was never imposed. All COVID-19-related restrictions were lifted by February 2022.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4.004 4.004

There is generally no undue government interference in business or private property ownership.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4.004 4.004

Parliament unanimously passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage in 2010, and a 2006 law established full and equal rights for same-sex couples in matters of adoption and assisted pregnancy. Comprehensive legislation on transgender issues ensures full and equal rights for transgender people and guarantees relevant healthcare, among other provisions.

Abortions through the 22nd week of pregnancy are permitted without requiring special approval.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3.003 4.004

Citizens generally enjoy fair access to economic opportunity. However, the systematic exploitation of migrant workers has become a significant problem in recent years, especially in the tourism industry. Employers who exploit workers have largely acted with impunity due to an inadequate government response. Wage theft is not punishable by law. There are reports of forced labor, primarily involving migrants, in the construction and service industries, and of forced sex work in nightclubs.

Iceland criminalized human trafficking in 2009. In the 2022 edition of its Trafficking in Persons Report, the US State Department reported that one person had been prosecuted and convicted of trafficking in Iceland during the year, the first such case since 2010.

On Iceland

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  • Global Freedom Score

    94 100 free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    95 100 free