Earthquakes Near Grímsey: Uncertainty Phase Declared

The National Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Police in Northeast Iceland declared an Uncertainty Phase on Friday due to ongoing seismic activity around the island of Grímsey. RÚV reports that an earthquake measuring 4.9 was detected around the island at 4 AM on Thursday morning; since then, there have been roughly 2,600 earthquakes. At 1:20 PM on Friday, there was another large quake of 4.1 and several over a magnitude of 3.0 occurred after that.

Per the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, an Uncertainty Phase is “is characterized by an event which has already started and could lead to a threat to people, properties, communities or the environment. At this stage the collaboration and coordination between the Civil Protection Authorities and stakeholders begins. Monitoring, assessment, research and evaluation of the situation is increased. The event is defined and a hazard assessment is conducted regularly.”

People who live in known earthquake areas in Northeast Iceland are advised to take appropriate measures to prepare for ongoing seismic activity. These include securing household items, such as flatscreen TVs and breakable décor, taking down paintings or photos that can fall on people while sleeping, moving beds away from windows, and familiarizing oneself with the Duck – Cover – Hold procedure. More information on natural disaster preparedness can be found on the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s website, in English, here.

Seismic activity is common in Northeast Iceland, and according to a natural disaster expert at the Met Office, there is currently no indication of a pending volcanic eruption.

Journalists’ Case Dismissed from Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal has dismissed journalist Aðalsteinn Kjartansson’s case against North Iceland Police, RÚV reports. The court’s ruling says there is nothing in the case that suggests that police did not follow correct procedure in the investigation against Aðalsteinn. The Northeast Iceland District Court had ruled in Aðalsteinn’s favour, but the journalist had requested to appeal the case.

The Court of Appeal ruling states that the media play an important role in a democratic society for free and informed debate. It stresses that care must be taken to avoid imposing restrictions on their work that would impair their ability to discuss issues. However, this does not guarantee journalists protection against a police investigation into alleged violations of criminal law.

Aðalsteinn was one of four journalists who received the legal status of defendant in connection with a police investigation into a violation of privacy. He decided to challenge the legality of the police’s actions and appealed to the Northeast Iceland District Court. While it was originally believed the case concerned the journalists’ coverage of a scandal connected to seafood company Samherji, the Chief of Police later announced that it concerned other, sensitive data found on a Samherji employee’s phone.

The journalists’ source has not been confirmed, nor whether they accessed the employee’s phone. Neither was there any mention of the sensitive data in question in any of the journalists’ reporting on the scandal.

The ruling means that the police may call the four journalists in for questioning in relation to their investigation.

Police Investigates Journalists for Samherji Scandal Reporting

Þórður Snær - ritsjóri Kjarnans - fjölmiðlar

The Northeast Iceland Police Department has launched an investigation of four journalists in relation to their reporting on seafood company Samherji, the centre of an international scandal that first erupted in late 2019. The journalists are being investigated for alleged violations of privacy and have the legal status of defendants in the case. The Journalists’ Association of Iceland has condemned the investigation.

The four journalists are Aðalsteinn Kjartansson of Stundin, Arnar Þór Ingólfsson of Kjarninn, Þórður Snær Júlíusson, Kjarninn’s editor, and Þóra Arnórsdóttir, editor of investigative journalism programme Kveikur at Icelandic National Broadcaster RÚV. The police investigation is centred on reporting from May 2021 into leaked communications between several Samherji employees who referred to themselves as the company’s “guerrilla division.” The employees worked to gather information on journalists who had published negative press on Samherji as well as trying to discredit them and disqualify them from writing about the company in the future.

Several government ministers, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, condemned Samherji’s targeting of the media after the “guerilla division” investigation came to light. Samherji issued a statement and later printed a letter of apology in Fréttablaðið and Morgunblaðið newspapers in response to the case.

Public interest versus privacy

Sigríður Dögg Auðunsdóttir, chairperson of The Journalists’ Association of Iceland, described the police investigation as “incomprehensible” and “indefensible” in a written statement published on the Association’s website. She expressed consternation that the journalists were being investigated for simply reporting on data they had obtained. “Whenever data is of such a nature that it could be considered a violation of privacy, a journalist must evaluate them with regard to public interest and assess which weighs more heavily: privacy or public interest,” Sigríður wrote. “When public interest prevails, there is never a question whether such data should be used as a basis for news, no matter how the data is obtained.”

The journalists’ reporting was based on leaked messages, reportedly from a stolen phone, but how the journalists obtained the data is unknown. Þórður Snær Júlíusson, one of the defendants, says police told him he was not suspected of stealing the phone, rather the police investigation was based on suspected violations of privacy as outlined in articles 228 and 229 of the Penal Code. “It entails that we have written news stories based on the data, there’s really nothing else that falls under [these articles].”