PRESS FREEDOM

Turkish journalist spared jail for Paradise Papers investigation

Investigative reporter Pelin Ünker will avoid prison after an appeals court dismissed a defamation claim brought by the sons of Turkey’s former prime minister.

Erkam and Bulent Yildirim, sons of Binali Yildrim, sued Ünker and newspaper Cumhuriyet in 2018 after revelations that the pair held shares in two Malta companies.

Cumhuriyet reported that one of the companies shared an address with a Turkish company that won a $7 million government contract.

The expose was a leading Turkish story that formed part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’s Paradise Papers investigation.

In January, an Istanbul court sentenced Ünker to prison for 13 months for “defamation and insult” of the Binali brothers. Separately, the court ordered Cumhuriyet to pay $1,160 for claims brought by father Binali Yildrim for “insult.”

The appeals court dismissed the prison sentence on the grounds that the complaint was barred by Turkey’s statute of limitations. It upheld the fine.

In response to the ruling,  Ünker told ICIJ: “I’m so happy. But not completely. Turkey is the largest prison for journalists and there are more than 160 in prison because of their job. In recent days, friends from Cumhuriyet were sent back to prison. So I’m only a little part of this big picture.

“I must say that solidarity from abroad and collaboration with ICIJ and journalists all over the world is so important in this situation.”

In a separate defamation case for damages brought by the Yildrim family, an appeals court will soon decide whether to award up to $5,000 in damages.

Turkey’s crackdown on independent media has intensified after a failed coup d’état in 2016. The country is now one of the world’s most prolific jailers of journalists.

On World Press Freedom Day (May 3) this year, ICIJ director Gerard Ryle said: “We have seen that press freedom is a big issue for some journalists and that some working with ICIJ have been threatened and some have been threatened with being put in jail.

“Press freedom for ICIJ means we all work together and help each other bring out stories that in some countries would not be told.”