Back

Free speech reforms after writer prosecuted for reporting allegations of police brutality

Thorgeir Thorgeirson v. Iceland  | 1992

Free speech reforms after writer prosecuted for reporting allegations of police brutality

Free access to opinions and information – particularly uncomfortable opinions and information that is difficult to obtain, which are usually more likely to open people’s eyes to new perspectives – that is also the cornerstone of democracy.

Thorgeir Thorgeirson, in his speech before the European Commission of Human Rights on 14 March 1990.
Reprinted in Pressan, February 1994 - © Photo Icelandic Film Centre

Background

In the early 1980s there were series of allegations of police brutality in Iceland, leading to the prosecution of members of the Reykjavik police.

Thorgeir Thorgeirson was a writer and filmmaker. In 1983 he published two articles in the newspaper Morgunbladid, in which he claimed that there was a serious problem with police brutality in Reykjavik. He was prosecuted and convicted for defaming the Reykjavik police, and fined 10,000 Icelandic crowns.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the articles had addressed a matter of serious public concern.  The allegations of police brutality had circulated widely in society, and in one case had resulted in the conviction of a police officer. Prosecuting and convicting Mr Thorgeirson for writing about them could discourage public debate about serious issues affecting society.

Therefore, the actions of the authorities had been disproportionate and had violated Mr Thorgeirson’s right to free speech.

Follow-up

In 1995 the Icelandic Parliament abolished the law under which Mr Thorgeirson had been prosecuted. A new version made it more difficult to bring defamation proceedings for criticising civil servants.