IFJ Warns Authorities over Threat to Press Freedom after Raid on Icelandic Daily

The International Federation of Journalists and its regional group the European Federation of Journalists today warned the authorities in Iceland that they were endangering press freedom after a daily newspaper was raided following reports that link government advisors to a growing scandal involving one of the country’s leading retail businesses.

Frettabladid, the largest daily newspaper, in Iceland, was raided by officers of the Reykjavík district commissioner on Friday after an injunction was issued banning the newspaper publishing e-mails and documents that relate to an on-going scandal involving the Baugur Company and the Independence Party, one of the two ruling government parties. Once news executives were certain that sources could not be revealed in the emails, the material was handed over.

“The authorities in Iceland are playing a dangerous game when they interfere in the newsroom,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “This action smacks of intimidation of journalists, it appears to be an attempt to stifle debate about an important public issue and it could endanger press freedom.”

In the past week there have reports demonstrating links between the Independence Party, and two of the former prime minister´s advisors, to the preparation of the charges brought against the retailer Baugur in 2002. One of the key players was the editor-in-chief of Morgunbladid, who is an influential person in The Independence Party. Historically, Morgunbladid has always had direct links with The Independence Party.

Jon Asger Johannesson, Chief Executive of Baugur, and five other executives were indicted last month on charges relating to embezzlement and falsifications of documents. Johannesson has previously claimed the three-year police investigation was politically motivated. On September 20 an Icelandic court dismissed all 40 charges against Baugur Group due to "flaws'' in the charges. The prosecution has appealed the decision to Iceland's Supreme Court. A judgment from that court is imminent.

This weekend Baugur-owned Fréttabladid published numerous emails, acquired from an anonymous source, connecting leading members of the Independence Party and the Social Democratic Alliance Party to the Baugur case.

The Journalist Association in Iceland and IFJ affiliate has protested over the injunction and says the district commissioner should keep out of editorial offices.

”This is a complicated case that requires a high degree of professionalism in reporting,” said White. “It is not helped by official interference. Journalists must be able to report freely.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries