Pelin Ünker, a Turkish journalist who participated in the Paradise Papers revelations in November 2017, was sentenced on Tuesday to 13 months in prison for “insulting and defaming” former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim by revealing that he and his two sons used tax optimisation schemes to hide their wealth in offshore tax havens.
The former journalist with the Turkish opposition daily Cumhuriyet was also fined 8,860 Turkish liras (about 1,440 euros) by an Istanbul court. Just after the announcement of her sentence, Pelin Ünker said she would appeal, reported the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Ünker, now working independently, pointed to the fact that the Yildirim family had not questioned the veracity of the claims she made in her articles, but nevertheless objected to the damage that that was done to his reputation. “There is no offense or defamation in my articles. Binali Yildirim himself acknowledged that his sons owned these companies in Malta. I do not think my investigation is a crime,” she said.
Ünker’s lawyer Tora Pekin, noted that of the 360 journalists from 70 countries around the world who reported on the Paradise Papers, Unker has been the only one to have been sentenced to prison for doing so.
The number of investigations launched for defamation against President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan has increased from 130 in 2014 – the year Erdogan has was elected president – to more than 6,300 in 2017. In total, more than 3,400 people (politicians, sportsmen, doctors, artists, students, police) were sentenced in these cases, most often to fines.
These investigations concern not only the Turkish head of state, but also his entourage, as evidenced by the conviction of Binali Yildrim, who is close to the President and plans to run for mayor of Istanbul as the AKP candidate.
Reporters without Borders ranks Turkey in 157th place out of 180 countries in its 2018 press freedom rankings. According to the NGO, Turkey is “the biggest prison in the world for media professionals”.