Following the news of Turkish journalist Pelin Ünker being sentenced to 13 months in prison for reporting on the Paradise Papers, a number of international press organisations, acclaimed journalists, human rights activists, and MEPs have publicly condemned the sentence as an attack on freedom of speech and the media.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) member was found guilty of defaming the nation’s former prime minister, Binali Yildirim and his two sons, Erkam and Bulent Yildirim, after reporting on the ownership of their companies in Malta.
ICIJ drector Gerard Ryle voiced his concerns over the punishment given to Ünker calling it a “disgraceful attack on free speech in Turkey,” adding that “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 Erdoğan’s autocratic rule,” Ryle said.
Drew Sullivan, editor and co-founder of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) tweeted: “Pelin Ünker , a respected Turkish journalist has been jailed for her Paradise Papers work. This is outrageous and shows the true colours of the Erdoğan regime.”
The Paradise Papers revelations leaked thousands of documents pertaining to the offshore financial industry and were published by a consortium of 90 media outlets around the world.
Journalists were then able to search the database of documents and resulted in the discovery that the two brothers owned Maltese companies called Hawke Bay Marine and Black Eagle Marine. The news was reported by Ünker in Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, one of the countries oldest and most independent news sources.
Interestingly, the two brothers and the ex-prime minister did not deny the fact that they had set up the offshore structures in the petition of complaint, but still pursued charges of “defamation and insult”.
The ruling against Ünker is “a world first“, both in terms of the fact that they sued for defamation while not contesting the fact that they set up the companies, but also because they are the first and only politicians in the world, to sue over the Paradise Papers, the ICIJ said.
Others to voice their support and solidarity with Ünker include other members of the ICIJ, international journalists, human rights activists, MEP Ana Gomes, the Global Investigative Journalism Network and the OSCE Representative on Media Freedom.
Turkey is known for its poor record on how it treats journalists with a total of 68 in prison as of the end of 2018 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In addition to this the country ranks 157th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2018 World Free Press Index, with the organisation ranking Turkey as “the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists”.