The European Court of Human Rights ruled today in favor of Icelandic journalist Erla Hlynsdóttir in her case against the Icelandic state, finding the Icelandic state guilty of violating Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which concerns freedom of expression. According to the judgment, the Icelandic state has to pay damages to Erla.
Erla told RÚV that she considers the verdict to be an “incredible victory.” Hjálmar Jónsson, chair of the Icelandic Journalist Association, stated that the verdict has significant meaning for freedom of expression in Iceland.
“We celebrate this conclusion. It’s immensely important that the European Court of Human Rights supports freedom of expression in Iceland. Unfortunately, Icelandic courts don’t have much understanding for freedom of expression,” Hjálmar commented.
In July 2007, the newspaper DV published an article by Erla Hlynsdóttir about an ongoing set of criminal proceedings against a man suspected of importing a large quantity of cocaine to Iceland, a press release from Päivi Suhonen, press correspondent for the Council of Europe in the Nordic countries, reads.
The article bore the headline ‘Scared cocaine smugglers’ on the front page and included one passage which revealed part of the description of the facts contained in the indictment, stating that the cocaine had been hidden in a car.
Following the man’s acquittal, he brought defamation proceedings against Erla and the editor of the newspaper. After the district court ruled in her favor, the Supreme Court of Iceland overturned the judgment in March 2010, declaring the words “cocaine smugglers” and the statement “…believing that the cocaine was still in the vehicle” to be null and void.
The Supreme Court ordered Erla and the publisher of DV to pay the claimant compensation. However, Erla argued that the judgment violated her rights under Article 10 (freedom of expression) and took her case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“I consider these verdicts to be annulled which is an incredible victory and simply unbelievable,” Erla told RÚV. The laws on the media were changed in 2011 and Erla believes she never would have been found guilty under those laws.
“Some of these verdicts would not have happened had the laws already been changed. However, these changes have not gone far enough in my opinion,” Erla added.