An Australian woman who bit off part of her husband’s tongue has been released after three months in an Icelandic prison.
- Nara Walker said she acted in self defence but was jailed for three months
- Her lawyers want her to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights
- Ms Walker says she wants reforms to protect other domestic violence victims
When Nara Walker married her love in 2016 she had no idea that it would end three years later with her sitting in a cell of a maximum security facility.
The night she was arrested in November 2017, the former Queenslander and her then-husband were at their Reykjavik flat with an American tourist and another woman.
Nara Walker’s mother Jane said “things happened” that night and the gathering turned violent.
A court in Iceland heard that Nara Walker’s husband threw the American man down the stairs, and when Ms Walker interceded, he became enraged with her, kicking her and breaking some of her ribs.
“She defended herself when he stuck his tongue right down her throat and she bit down on his tongue and took off the tip of it,” her mother Jane Walker said.
Police were called and Nara Walker was taken away.
“I was in shock from the whole situation, my body was in shock, my mind was in shock. When they found me I was crying on the stairs hiding,” she said.
“When they took me to jail I was in this state of disbelief that this was even happening.”
Her passport was later confiscated.
The 28-year-old artist admitted to hurting her husband, but throughout her arrest and court hearings told investigators that she acted in self defence.
“I was afraid for him as well because I injured him and I’ve never injured anyone so that was a shock in itself,” she explained.
“I did not attack him. In that moment I was terrified for my life,” she said.
At home on the Sunshine Coast, Jane Walker was appalled to discover that her daughter had been arrested and charged with assault.
“She loves animals, nature, all sorts of things like that. If there was a spider in the house, we’d have to carry it out gently, she’s really a very gentle soul.”
She was even more disturbed when she found out her daughter was released days later from the police watch house and taken back to the flat.
“They delivered her back to [her husband]. So she had to leave, and packed up everything so she was basically homeless in Iceland. She had no job, passport.”
‘I haven’t slept properly, I constantly live in fear’
The 2018 trial was conducted in Icelandic, apart from Nara Walker’s evidence, where she detailed months of abuse from her husband, including text messages where he admitted to putting the drug LSD in her tea.
But the Icelandic system does not always recognise a woman’s experience of domestic violence as a defence for assault.
Nara Walker was found guilty and was sentenced to 12 months in prison — with nine months suspended she would only have to do three months of community service.
She appealed, but her three months of community service was upgraded to maximum security imprisonment.
“Women in the justice system are not getting a fair shot of justice,” Ms Walker’s lawyer, Icelandic District Court Attorney Sigrún Ingibjörg Gísladóttir said.
Her colleague Auður Tinna Aðalbjarnardóttir said it was “especially true when the women are of foreign origin. If they don’t speak the language, and perhaps have uncertain residency statuses”.
The pair believe Ms Walker may have been at a significant disadvantage during her trial.
“She’s certainly like all individuals who do not speak the language of the court, in a weaker position than otherwise. She’s not able to defend herself in the same manner, with the fact that everything needs to go through a translator,” Ms Gísladóttir said.
Ms Walker said the court process and her journey through the justice system in Iceland added to the trauma of surviving domestic violence.
“It’s nearly 19 months that I have not been able to live properly, I haven’t slept properly, I constantly live in fear.
“In the beginning it was fear of him. And then it’s the fear of the police here or the system. I don’t know what my next day will bring, and I don’t know my future.
“It will take me a long time to get over that, if ever. I can’t function properly. I’m afraid.”
Life in an Icelandic prison
In February 2019 Nara Walker entered the maximum security facility, surrounded by supporters who taped their mouths shut in protest against the court’s treatment of women.
Once inside, she said the prison guards were quite kind, but it was a shock to wake up in a prison cell.
“Waking up there was like ‘okay, I’m here.’ I had panic attacks that day. But I really had to understand that while doing time, you can’t count time.”
She said she soon got into a routine, of cooking with fellow inmates and using the prison gym.
“I was able to do watercolour paintings while I was in there, so that was very helpful. There were ups and downs for me. I didn’t really have proper hot water the whole time I was there, there was an issue with the heating. And we were locked in our rooms between 10pm and 8am.”
She said it was an emotional time as she reflected on her relationship with her husband.
“I realised that I felt safer in prison than in my own marriage.”
Jane Walker said her daughter was resilient behind bars, and after a month she was moved to a minimum security arrangement, which allowed her to work during the day.
“She could ring me every now and then and we had a Skype call once a week which was wonderful,” she said.
“It was a real concern because she’s grown up here in Australia with nature and freedom and walking around … but she managed, she managed really well.”
Legal fight continues
The young artist said she isn’t able to return to Australia because she still doesn’t have her passport and she’s preparing to fight a deportation order from Iceland authorities.
Her mother fears the order could restrict her movements and damage her art career.
“If that comes off it’ll mean that she won’t be able to go into any of the Schengen countries which is where her European art base is, and where her work has been shown in galleries.”
The lawyers who took over from Nara Walker’s legal team after she went to jail, are taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights.
They will argue Ms Walker’s right to feel safe at home was violated, as well as other rights like her right to a fair trial.
The Australian said she hoped that taking her case to the Human Rights Court would highlight problems still being experienced by women, even in progressive countries like Iceland.
“I have that platform to be able to come forward and share my experience. I want women to take the shame off and give ourselves a hug and recognise that we are living in this and it’s 2019 and it’s time it’s recognised within the system.”
Nara’s case prompts calls for change
Her lawyers believe there is room to improve the small country’s legal system.
“Our penal code is from the 40’s. Obviously it’s been changed a number of times since then, and one of the things that has been re-examined and needs more re-examination is that this situation that domestic violence is perceived like other forms of violence,” Ms Gísladóttir said.
“For example in Nara’s case you have these months of abuse and then you have this matter happening and we would like the justice system to take into account to a larger extent what happened before, that it’s not just what happened in that precise moment. Which is the case perhaps in traditional violence cases.”
But the pair insist the Nordic country is progressive on domestic violence and women’s rights more generally.
“The Icelandic police puts domestic violence especially high on their list of priorities so when calls are made for domestic violence they are quite quick to respond,” Ms Aðalbjarnardóttir said.
They said Iceland now has laws that force an abuser to leave the home, rather than the victim. But the pair hope this case will show more work is needed.
“The justice system needs to work together with the parliament as well as the police and the courts to find a solution as to how we ensure that victims get a fair trial,” Ms Gísladóttir said.
Despite her experiences, Ms Walker said she had no ill feeling towards the country.
“Icelandic people have welcomed me into their homes. I’ve taken Icelandic lessons,” she said.
“One of the reasons that it really upsets me is that people I know, or children I see in the streets, this is going to happen to them and there needs to be a discussion to eradicate this epidemic which is worldwide.”
Jane Walker said she understood her former son-in-law had recovered from his injuries an was no longer living in Iceland.