The book on the war in Afghanistan “Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Defining Story of Britain's War in Afghanistan” by Toby Harnden caused indignation three years ago in Estonia, because it mentioned dead and injured Estonian soldiers by name. One of the soldiers went to court against the book's Estonian publisher and in March this year, the court decided that he has a right to compensation, but the publisher has challenged the decision.
The Estonian edition was published in 2012 with a print run of 900 copies. Citing the Personal Data Protection Act, one veteran sued the publishing house. The Harju County Court required the publisher Kunst to stop the illegal processing of delicate personal data and pay the veteran 3,000 euros in compensation.
The verdict does not specify what to do with the 200 unsold copies and the 700 copies sold, but the court told ETV’s program Pealtnägija, which aired on Wednesday, that the publisher has challenged the decision and the resolution lies in the appeals court.
The first English edition of the book was retracted from the stores in the UK as authorities demanded the removal of certain facts and names. At the time, Harnden claimed the Estonian Ministry of Defense pressured him directly and later denied it, but admitted contacting the British Ministry of Defense.
The second edition appeared with parts blacked out, although according to Pealtnägija, the omitted sections do not concern Estonian soldiers.
Two possible sections may have upset Estonians. The first involves the Estonian company Estcoy-8 preparing to go into battle at the night of their arrival, with Brits warning them it would be suicidal. When the Estonians went on patrol the next day, one corporal was seriously wounded and the book states his name and details of his injuries.
Secondly, the book mentions the names of three Estonians killed and the circumstances of their deaths. Overall, the book is positive about Estonian solders.
The managing director of Kunst, Martin Helme, decided to publish an Estonian edition, although he was warned by the Ministry of Defense that a lawsuit may ensue.
According to Helme, veterans withdrew their agreement of cooperation due to pressure from their superiors, and the publishers also received a call from a high-ranking ministry official whose name he said he cannot disclose.
In 2011, the Chief of the Public Affairs Department of the Estonian Defense Forces, Lt. Col. Peeter Tali, told ETV that veterans and their families have not given permission to be mentioned in the book. Helme counters this by saying that many Estonian veterans have discussed their injuries in the media and speculates that the ministry does not approve of the book’s depiction of the war in Afghanistan.
Tali told Pealtnägija that the issue is part of an unethical campaign of Helme, currently running for the European Parliament, and he refuses to take part in it on camera. He denied the ministry pressured the publishing house.
The veteran behind the lawsuit refused to comment but said the ministry helped him prepare the paperwork for the suit.
The disputed sections could be accessed on the author's blog and the book is on sale in English in Estonia.
Harnden, now the Washington bureau chief of The Sunday Times, told the program that he wasn't aware of the court case. He said he has not heard from the Estonian government after the changes were made to the first editions of the books.
According to Harnden, he signed a legal contract with the Ministry of Defense to get access to Estonian soldiers and later submitted his manuscript to the ministry, which approved it for publication. Only after the book was printed did the ministry protest its contents, the author said. According to him, the sections contained no sensitive data, merely information reported in the British and US press every day.
When asked about possible changes to the book in connection with the Estonian court case, Harnden said he is not part of this ruling and in the age of Internet it is “hard to unpublish things”.