A €1,500 claim by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' husband Arvo Hallik filed against the author of an opinion article shows a clear will to silence the media, Urmo Soonvald, editor-in-chief of Delfi and Eesti Päevaleht said on Wednesday. Hallik's lawyer says this view is uninformed.
Hallik made the claim against Valdar Parve, a psychiatrist and former philosophy teacher at the University of Tartu. Parve's article published in Eesti Päevaleht about Hallik's business ties with Russia made false allegations, Hallik said, and he requested an apology and €1,500 to stop the issue from going to court.
Soonvald told ERR this is clearly an effort to silence different opinions.
"This is a signal to the press to be careful, do not play games, do not even allow ambiguous language and meaning in opinion pieces. Undoubtedly, it may be in the interests of the Kallas family to move this issue on and as far away as possible from the main issue, which is Kaja Kallas' moral compass and lying," he said.
Soonvald said the editorial office tries to minimize the risk of potential legal action by editing stories before publication.
"No one thought or really thinks that Kaja Kallas and Arvo Hallik are each other's shadow or vice versa. It was clearly a calamity and a sham," he said, adding that there are numerous examples that show while some stories may seem provocative, to others they are justified as stimulating or provoking debate in wider society.
"In this case, this calamity, an image, true, which is not factually true, went so deep to the soul of the Prime Minister's family that they preferred to immediately send the author of our op-ed [a notice] that €1,500 must be paid with two days' notice," said Soonvald.
He said that after several days of discussion with the company's lawyer, it was decided that correcting the factual error was the easiest outcome for the publisher, but this should not draw attention away from how Kallas' family is treating the media or other aspects of this scandal.
The editor-in-chief said this is not the first time there has been an attempt to silence the press. While this story does not have much bearing on the long term, it is significant that Hallik himself took such a step on this topic, he said.
"In the past, he has let Kaja Kallas speak for his business and morals, and this is the first time that Arvo Hallik has taken a step where he felt that he was being hard done by and that his mental health was being harmed. Before this month, or even longer, Mr Hallik has not gone public and has not bothered to explain all his dealings with Russian businesses, with the companies that do business in Russia, and has never once tried to pull Kaja Kallas out from under the fire," he said.
Nõmper: This is not a silencing action
Hallik's lawyer Ants Nõmper said the €1,500 is compensation for both material and non-material damages.
"When considering the amount, we took into account the existing case law, according to which the maximum amount award of non-pecuniary damage is €15,000, as well as other factors. On the basis of all these considerations, we concluded that €1,500 would be reasonable," he said.
Nõmper said the damage consisted of lawyers and court costs, but answers related to damages should be sought from Hallik.
Asked why a complaint was not made against the article instead, Nõmper said submitting a letter of demand is a reasonable action take to to avoid going to court.
"There is no justification whatsoever for objecting in this case, as the facts in question are incorrect. The factual allegations are right or wrong, they cannot be refuted by a counter-argument," the lawyer said. "Factual allegations that are incorrect are refuted by the petitioner himself, and in this case, we reached this compromise with the petitioner, and these allegations were also refuted."
Nõmper disagreed that the claim was made to silence the media and said this view is ignorant.
"Firstly, silencing actions are made against all kinds of opinion leaders, civil activists, and the press in order to obstruct their daily activities. In this case, the author is not an opinion leader, a civil activist, or a journalist, but a doctor, and this demand cannot in any way be used to prevent him from carrying out his medical activities. His day-to-day activities will continue in the same way, and this is not an action for silence," said the lawyer.
In addition, Nõmper said, the sums of money in such cases are of a completely different magnitude. He highlighted the case of journalist Katrin Lust, who had a claim made against her for €1 million and an attempt was made to seize her property.
Hallik told ERR he did not have time to comment on Wednesday.
Editor: Vahur Lauri, Karin Koppel, Helen Wright