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Pelin Ünker, who is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) was found guilty in an Istanbul court of "defamation and insult" for writing about business activities in Malta by Binali Yildrim and his sons. (Facebook/Pelin Ünker)
Pelin Ünker, who is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) was found guilty in an Istanbul court of "defamation and insult" for writing about business activities in Malta by Binali Yildrim and his sons. (Facebook/Pelin Ünker)

Press freedom

Journalist Pelin Ünker sentenced to prison for ‘defamation and insult’ of Turkey’s former prime minister

By WITW Staff on January 10, 2019

A Turkish journalist has been sentenced to 13 months in prison for her work on the Paradise Papers investigation into offshore tax havens, after being found to have defamed her country’s former prime minister and his sons.

Pelin Ünker, who is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) was found guilty in an Istanbul court of “defamation and insult” for writing about business activities in Malta by Binali Yildrim and his sons. Yildrim was P.M. from 2016 to 2018, and is now the speaker of Turkey’s national assembly.

Ünker told the ICIJ she will appeal. “This decision is not a surprise for us,” she said. “Because the result was certain from the beginning. There is no criminal offense or defamation in my articles.

“The fact is Binali Y?ld?r?m’s sons have Maltese companies. Binali Y?ld?r?m had already accepted that they have these companies. In the indictment, it is also accepted.”

Her legal team said the complaint against the now freelance reporter was doubly unfair because it also encompassed pieces not written by her. “[Paradise Papers] were reported as news all across the world but the only one who is being tried for that is Pelin Ünker,” one of  Ünker lawyer’s, Tora Pekin, said.

Turkey has the worst record in the world for imprisoning journalists, with 68 incarcerated at the end of 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. All are facing charges of crimes against the state.

Ünker said journalists routinely faced politically-motivated attacks in Turkey, and that she is just the latest victim of such repression. “Journalists have been struggling with these kinds of things in Turkey for years. I’m just one of them,” she told the ICIJ.

The ICIJ’s director, Gerard Ryle, in condemning Ünker’s jail sentence, said: “This unjust ruling is about silencing fair and accurate reporting. Nothing more. ICIJ commends Pelin Ünker’s brave and truthful investigative reporting and it condemns this latest assault on journalistic freedom under Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s autocratic rule.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Turkey 157th of 180 countries on the 2018 World Free Press Index, describing it as “the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists.”

Four fearless journalists, onstage at at the 2017 Women in the World Summit, talk about their work, in an era when speaking truth to power yields consequences from digital harassment to imprisonment:

Read the full story at ICIJ and The Guardian.

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