Case of European Court of Human Rights, November 07, 2017 (case Egill Einarsson v. Iceland)

Resolution Date:November 07, 2017

Information Note on the Court’s case-law 212

November 2017

Egill Einarsson v. Iceland - 24703/15

Judgment 7.11.2017 [Section II]

Article 8

Positive obligations

Article 8-1

Respect for private life

Dismissal of defamation proceedings against a public figure accused of being a “rapist”: violation

Facts – The applicant was a well-known figure in Iceland who had published articles, blogs and books and appeared in films, on television and other media. Following rape and sexual assault accusations against the applicant by two women a police investigation was opened, but both cases were later discontinued by the public prosecutor for lack of evidence. Shortly after the second case was dropped the applicant gave an interview about the accusations to a magazine. On the day the interview was published, a third party (X) published an altered version of the applicant’s magazine picture with the caption “Fuck you rapist bastard” on his account on Instagram, an online picture-sharing application. The applicant brought defamation proceedings against X but the case was dismissed at first instance after the Supreme Court found that the Instagram caption constituted invective and was therefore a value judgment, not a factual statement that the applicant was in fact guilty of rape.

In the Convention proceedings, the applicant alleged a violation of his right to respect for his private life in breach of Article 8.

Law – Article 8: The Court had to determine whether a fair balance had been struck between the applicant’s right to the protection of his private life under Article 8 of the Convention and X’s right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 10.

The domestic courts had found that the applicant was a well-known figure whose views, including his attitudes towards women and their sexual freedom, had attracted attention and controversy. The complaints against him of sexual violence had led to public discussions in which he had participated. In these circumstances the Court accepted that the limits to acceptable criticism had to be wider in his case than in the case of an individual who was not well-known.

The Court also agreed with the domestic courts that, in the light of the fact that the applicant was well-known and the impugned publication was a part of a debate concerning accusations of a serious criminal act, the caption concerned an issue of general interest.

The crux of the matter before the domestic courts was whether or not the caption...

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