An Appeals Court in Turkey has overturned the prison sentence handed to Paradise Papers journalist Pelin Ünker, although she will still have to pay a fine.
The journalist, who is also a member of the ICIJ, had been sentenced to 13 months in prison for her reporting on offshore companies in Malta. She was charged with defaming Turkey’s former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and his two sons, Erkam and Bulent Yildirim.
The Paradise Papers leak showed that the Turkish PEPs had set up offshore structures in Malta called Hawke Bay Marine and Black Eagle Marine. The ex-prime minister and his sons did not deny their ownership of the companies yet still pursued charges of “defamation and insult”.
Ünker was recently in Malta to participate in a debate on press freedom organised by PN MEP David Casa, when she also addressed a vigil in memory of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
On social media, Ünker posted a photo of her smiling, with her husband and child. “Sometimes good things happen to Turkish journalists too. In Turkey, the world’s largest prison for journalists, the appeal court has dropped (the) prison sentence. Thanks, everyone who supported me”.
Casa, who had also visited the journalist in Turkey to raise awareness about her case, welcomed the news, saying it was “a win for press freedom”.
“I have been campaigning for months for these charges to be dropped,” the MEP said.
@pelinunker is a free woman!
?? courts have dropped the 13 month prison sentence vs. the journalist for her factual reporting on the #ParadisePapers scandal.
— David Casa (@DavidCasaMEP) May 6, 2019
The news of Ünker’s freedom was also welcomed by a number of journalists and press freedom organisations. ICIJ said it was “relieved” to learn that its Turkish member would not have to go to jail for her reporting.
? We're all very relieved to learn that our Turkish member @pelinunker will *not* have to go to jail for her #ParadisePapers reporting on Turkey's former PM and sons. There is still a fine to be paid, however. #Journalismisnotacrime #PressFreedom
— ICIJ (@ICIJorg) May 6, 2019
International human rights organisation Article 19 also reacted, referring to the “outrageous charges for factual reporting on high-level corruption”. The organisation said the case should have never made it to court in the first place.
Turkey is well known for its poor record on media freedom and it has been described by Amnesty International as “the world’s largest prison for journalists”.
It currently ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index.