Stockholm District Court on Monday found journalist Cissi Wallin guilty of aggravated defamation against Fredrik Virtanen, also a journalist, after she posted on social media in 2017 that Virtanen had drugged and raped her – claims he has always denied.
Wallin had previously spoken about being raped by a “man in the media” in 2006, but in her posts during the #MeToo movement she named the alleged offender as Virtanen. She reported the alleged rape to police in 2011, but charges were never brought.
She told the trial that her decision to name him helped get the ball rolling for #MeToo in Sweden, one of the countries where the global campaign gained significant momentum. But the court found that although discussions about sexual violence were in the public interest, and that victims' naming of offenders in general may have helped raise awareness, it did not mean that it was always “justifiable to name individual people”.
“The statements had a wide reach and referred to very serious crime. They also caused great harm to the plaintiff, both in his professional life and his private life,” said court president Malou Lindblom in a statement.
The court said that although it accepted the fact that Virtanen was a well-known journalist who would have to accept some level of scrutiny, it added that the allegations were not related to his professional role.
It added that Wallin could have told family and police about the alleged incident without sharing it with her large social media following. The court noted she had instead made the claims in a series of posts on Instagram and Facebook, which received between around 2,000 and 37,000 likes, and said that Virtanen's opportunity to defend himself against the accusations had been “limited”, in a jugdment seen by The Local.
The court handed Wallin a suspended sentence and a 5,000 kronor fine, and ordered her to pay 90,000 kronor ($9,400) in damages to Virtanen.
“This clearly states that we can't write whatever we damn well please on the internet. I'm happy about the verdict. Possibly, life can now go on after the worst two years of my and my family's life,” wrote Virtanen on his blog on Monday afternoon.
“But the internet does not forget. Facebook and Instagram have yet to take responsibility for still distributing these violations to a mass audience. The American IT giants have no shame,” he added, also criticizing Swedish media for republishing some of the claims.
It was not immediately known whether or not Wallin intended to appeal the sentence.
Defamation (förtal in Swedish) is when someone spreads information about another person in such a way that it can harm their reputation and cause damage in their personal life, for example by suggesting that the person engages in criminal behaviour.
According to Swedish law, the court's first job was to assess whether the posts were justifiable.
If the court had found they were justifiable, the second step would have been to assess the veracity of the claims, or whether Wallin had had good reason to believe they were true – if the court had found this to be the case, then she would have been cleared. However, in this case, the court found the posts were not justifiable, which meant that the second step did not form part of the ruling.