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Iceland: PACE rapporteurs concerned about police investigation into journalists

Digital media and newspapers

PACE's General Rapporteurs on the freedom and safety of journalists, Mogens Jensen (Denmark, SOC), and on the situation of human rights defenders, Sunna Ævarsdóttir (Iceland, SOC), have expressed deep concern over reports that Icelandic police are conducting an investigation into whether four journalists violated the newly-amended penal provisions on the protection of privacy.

“Police interrogating journalists for writing news is a method used by authorities in several member States in order to intimidate journalists. It is troubling to see Iceland, a country often considered a role model in human rights protection, use such methods and I call on them to reconsider their approach,” said Mr Jensen. He added: “The police have announced that the journalists have the status of suspects and will be interrogated in the coming days. Should they be prosecuted and found guilty, they could face up to a year’s imprisonment.”

Ms Aevarsdottir recalled that “the journalists are suspected of violating the privacy protection law for having written stories based on private data given to them by a source. The data revealed that a group of people working for Samherji Holding, a fisheries company at the centre of the international #FishrotFiles scandal, had been working behind the scenes to intimidate and discredit the journalists that uncovered the scandal; they also collected private information on various other people considered to pose a threat to the company with the aim of discrediting them. The journalists also uncovered that this group, calling themselves the Samherji Guerilla Division, had plans to intimidate Jóhannes Stefánsson, a whistleblower and key witness for the prosecution in Namibia, in order to prevent him from testifying against the Chairman of Samherji in the Fishrot case.”

She added: “I am saddened to witness the deterioration of press freedom in Iceland, my home country, which has become increasingly alarming in the aftermath of the Fishrot scandal. These journalists are being treated as criminals for witing news in the public interest and this must stop now.”