Defamation is a Crime in Iceland

The Icelandic Criminal Code provides the following offenses:

Insult (Art. 234): Provides criminal liability for “Anyone who defames another person by insults in word or deed and anyone who disseminates such defamation”. The penalty is a fine or imprisonment for up to one year.

Defamation (Art. 235): Defined as “[m]aking insinuations about another person of a nature that would damage his or her reputation, or spreading such insinuations”. The penalty is a fine or imprisonment for up to one year.

Slander (Art. 236): Defined as “[m]aking or disseminating a defamatory insinuation against one’s better knowledge”. The penalty is imprisonment for up to two years. “If an insinuation is made or disseminated publicly even though the person making it had no reason to believe it to be correct”, the penalty is a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Upbraiding (Art. 237): Defined as “upbraid[ing] another person with something without any occasion to do so. Even if he or she is telling the truth”. The penalty is a fine.

Insult of close family members (Art. 233b): Provides criminal liability for “[a]nyone who insults or denigrates his or her spouse or ex-spouse, child or other closely-related person, the offence being considered as constituting serious defamation”. The penalty is imprisonment for up to two years.

It should also be noted that Art. 233a provides criminal liability for mocking, defaming, denigrating or threatening “a person or group of persons by comments or expressions of another nature, for example by means of pictures or symbols, for their nationality, colour, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, or disseminates such materials”. The penalty is a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Criminal Code Art. 241 provides: “Offensive remarks may be judged null and void in an action for libel if the injured party so requests.” The offender may also be required to pay for the publishing of the court’s judgment or a correction.

The Icelandic Criminal Code does not provide explicit defenses (grounds for exemption from criminal liability) for the offences mentioned above.

It is worth noting that Iceland’s Media Law contains a clause stating that the press is forbidden from “encourag[ing] hatred” on the grounds of “race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, nationality, opinion or cultural, economic, social or other standing in society” (Art. 27). Compliance with this and all other directives in the Law falls within the purview of the newly established Media Commission, which monitors and licenses all media operating in Iceland. For infractions of Art. 27, the Commission can issue an “executive fine” of up to 10 million Icelandic krónur (Art. 54). Violations can also incur criminal liability resulting in imprisonment for up to six months; police investigations may only begin at the request of the Media Commission (Arts. 55-56). Notably, the Media Commission is a state body. Its five members are appointed by Iceland’s Minister of Education, Culture, and Science, according to the following formula: “Two representatives shall be appointed in accordance with a nomination by the Supreme Court of Iceland, one in accordance with a nomination by the standing Committee of the Rectors of Icelandic Higher Education Institutions and one in accordance with a nomination by the National Union of Icelandic Journalists; the fifth shall be appointed by the minister without nomination” (Art. 8).

Þór Þórðarson

Reykjavík, Iceland