By FERGUS SHIEL International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Wed., Jan. 9, 2019
Turkish journalist Pelin Unker has been sentenced to jail over the Paradise Papers investigation after being found to have defamed her nation’s former prime minister and two of his sons.
An Istanbul court sentenced the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ member to imprisonment for 13 months for “defamation and insult.”
Turkish journalist Pelin Unker, a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, has been sentenced to 13 months in prison for “defamation and insult” over her reporting on the Paradise Papers investigation. (PELINUNKER/TWITTER)
In 2017, the ICIJ coordinated theParadise Papers investigation, bringing together more than 90 news organizations from around the world, including the Star, to expose the secret offshore holdings of the global elite.
Unker, who reported that former prime minister Binali Yildirim and his sons owned companies in Malta in the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, was also fined $1,615 (U.S.).
Prime minister from May 2016 to July 2018, Yildirim became speaker of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly after the post of Prime Minister was abolished.
One of Unker’s lawyers, Tora Pekin, defended the journalist’s work after the ruling, telling local reporters it was both accurate and in the public interest.
“(Paradise Papers) were reported as news all across the world but the only one who is being tried for that is Pelin Unker,” Pekin reportedly said.
“In a democratic society, the press has an indispensable duty. It is obliged to reveal all the documents that interest the public. Pelin did this.
“Founding a company in a tax haven … The story is all about this. They did not deny this in the petition of complaint … The people have the right to read the Paradise Papers.”
Following her sentencing, Unker told ICIJ that she intended to appeal what was an extraordinary but unsurprising court ruling.
Unker said what made the “world first” ruling so remarkable was that the complainants acknowledged that her articles were true.
“This decision is not a surprise for us. Because the result was certain from the beginning. There is no criminal offence or defamation in my articles,” she said.
“The fact is Binali Yildirim’s sons have Maltese companies. Binali Yildirim had already accepted that they have these companies. In the indictment, it is also accepted,” she said.
“Binali Yildirim and Berat Albayrak are the first and only politicians in the world to sue over Paradise Papers articles.”
“They want to silence journalists by decisions like this. Of course, we will continue doing journalism. We’re going to do what other journalists do.”
ICIJ director Gerard Ryle condemned Unker’s punishment as yet another disgraceful attack on free speech in Turkey.
Ryle said that the sentence ignored the truth of the Paradise Papers’ investigation and it would have a chilling effect on what little remained of press freedom in Turkey.
“This unjust ruling is about silencing fair and accurate reporting. Nothing more,” Ryle said.
In November 2017, Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey’s oldest newspapers, published a series of stories as part of the global Paradise Papers investigation that revealed how politicians, multinational corporations and criminals had hidden money in offshore tax havens.
Unker and Cumhuriyet focused on opaque dealings by several of Turkey’s most powerful individuals, including close political allies and a family member of Erdogan.
Cumhuriyet reported on shipping companies based offshore in Malta which brothers Erkam and Bulent Yildirim held shares in.
Cumhuriyet reported that public records showed one offshore company shared an address with a Turkish business that won a $7 million research and shipping-related tender from the Turkish government.
The Yildirim family did not respond to Cumhuriyet’s questions before publication.
After publication, Prime Minister Yildirim defended the offshore companies as routine parts of the global maritime industry. “There is no hidden business here,” he said.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Turkey 157th of 180 countries on the 2018 World Free Press Index .
RSF describes Turkey as “the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists.”