A woman lights a candle during a ceremony in Tallinn, Estonia on September 28, 2019 to mark 25 years since the sinking of the ferry MS Estonia. Swedish authorities are prosecuting two journalists who reported at the site of the accident on charges of violating a burial site. (AFP/ Raigo Pajula)

Swedish authorities charge documentary filmmakers Henrik Evertsson and Linus Andersson for MS Estonia film

Berlin, October 19, 2020 — Swedish authorities should immediately drop criminal charges against Swedish documentary filmmakers Henrik Evertsson and Linus Andersson, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 30 prosecutors in Sweden charged Evertsson, a journalist, and Andersson, a cameraman, with violating the burial site of MS Estonia, a ferry ship which sunk in the Baltic Sea in September 1994, leading to the deaths of more than 850 people, according to the Swedish Journalists’ Association, an independent trade association, and Evertsson, who spoke with CPJ via email. 

The charges, which stem from the filmmakers’ reporting at the site, were publicized in a statement by the Swedish Journalists’ Association on October 14. According to The Guardian they are punishable by up to two years in prison. 

“Swedish authorities must immediately drop all criminal charges against documentary filmmakers Henrik Evertsson and Linus Andersson,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “The two journalists’ investigation aims to shed light on the cause of the accident and reveal new evidence. They acted in the service of the public’s right to information. Journalists must not be prosecuted for doing their job.” 

The journalists’ five-episode documentary began streaming on September 28 on Dplay, an online video service of Discovery, Inc. Their reporting using an underwater camera shows that the ship’s hull has a large hole, suggesting that something hit the ship, not that it capsized due to a malfunction, which is the official explanation, according to The Guardian and The New York Times.

In 1995 Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Denmark, Russia and the UK signed an international treaty, which became a Swedish law declaring the site a marine grave, and outlawing any further exploration of the site, The Guardian reported. 

According to The Guardian and Evertsson, the crew sought to avoid prosecution by chartering a boat registered in Germany for the investigation. Germany is the only state with a Baltic Sea coastline which did not sign 1995 treaty.  

“This was a journalistically motivated operation, aimed to shed new light on the MS Estonia disaster in 1994. Through our research, we noticed that the documentation of the wreck was lacking. There was no complete documentation of the wreck’s condition that could support the claim that the hull was intact,” Evertsson told CPJ in an email.

The trial is set to start in Gothenburg district court on January 25, 2021, according to Evertsson, who added that the two journalists deny the charges. 

CPJ emailed questions to the press department of the Swedish Public Prosecutor’s office but did not receive an immediate reply.