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Journalist wins case against Iceland over report on addiction centre sex abuse

It is the second case against Iceland Erla Hlynsdóttir has won.

Image: Mathieu Nivelles via Flickr/Creative Commons

THE EUROPEAN COURT of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that an Icelandic journalist should not have been found guilty of defamation.

It is the second case taken by Erla Hlynsdóttir, a former reporter for Icelandic paper DV, at the ECtHR relating to Iceland’s rigid media laws.

These have since been reformed.

In 2012, she was found guilty of defamation over an article in which a strip club owner alleged that illegal activity was taking place in a rival club.

However, the ECtHR ruled in her favour, finding that she practised proper journalistic ethics in her reporting of the case, and that quoting a defamatory statement does not necessarily mean the article itself is defamatory, according to Freedom House.

This new case, again a result of Iceland’s old media laws, involved an article by Hlynsdóttir on a high-profile sexual abuse case surrounding the director of a Christian rehabilitation centre for people with drug, alcohol and gambling addictions.

Both the director and his wife, at the time working in a school, were previously suspected to have sexually abused female patients. However, only the director was found guilty.

Defamation proceedings were then launched by the director’s wife against Hlynsdóttir over an article which appeared in DV containing quotes from a former female patient.

An Icelandic court ruled that Hlynsdóttir had indicated that the director’s wife was guilty by publishing a quote from a patient, who said it was “… not appropriate that the one who hunts for [the director] works in a primary school”.

The European Court ruled today:

The courts had not explained how the word “hunt” in the statement “the one who hunts for him” would be perceived by the reader as an allusion to a criminal act, nor had they referred to any legal provision in that context.

‘The words “hunts for him” could be understood as a value-based
characterisation of established factual events rather than a pure factual assertion.’

The court also noted that the journalist had repeatedly attempted to interview the director of the centre, but was only able to speak with the couple’s lawyer and a police officer investigating the case.

“In that light, the Court found that the Icelandic Supreme Court had not based its judgment on relevant and sufficient grounds demonstrating that Ms Hlynsdóttir had acted in bad faith or without the due diligence,” the ruling read.

Hlynsdóttir was awarded €2,500, the amount she had to pay to the director’s wife, and €5,500 in other damages, after it was found that Article 10 (Freedom of Expression) of the Convention on Human Rights had been violated.

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Nicky Ryan

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