A court in Istanbul has sentenced a journalist to jail for defamation after she reported that the country’s former prime minister was named in the Paradise Papers leak.
Pelin Ünker was sentenced to 13 months in jail for “defamation and insult” earlier this week, said the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, of which Ünker is a member. She was also fined US$1,615.
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Ünker’s reporting said Turkey’s former prime minister Binali Yildirim and his sons had companies in Malta — which was revealed in the Paradise Papers leak.
The leak, which was revealed in 2017, showed how the wealthy stashed money in offshore accounts known as tax havens. It was published in over 90 publications including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
While the papers made international headlines, tax havens aren’t illegal. The ICIJ says Unker is the only journalist in the world being sued for defamation over the papers.
In a statement to ICIJ, Unker said the decision was not a surprise because “the result was certain from the beginning.”
“There is no criminal offence or defamation in my articles,” she said, noting that the former prime minister has admitted to owning the companies she reported on.
“The fact is Binali Yıldırım’s sons have Maltese companies. Binali Yıldırım had already accepted that they have these companies. In the indictment, it is also accepted.
“Although accepting the existence of companies, they filed a lawsuit and a penalty came. This is a first in the world.”
She said she intended to appeal the ruling.
On Twitter, she thanked those that provided her support, saying “Journalism is not a crime.”
ICIJ director Gerard Ryle condemned the ruling, calling it the “latest assault on journalistic freedom under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s autocratic rule.”
Others joined in criticizing the ruling and Erdogan’s government on Twitter.
Global Witness said on Twitter, “The guilty verdict against Pelin Unker is extremely concerning and fits with a wider trend of using any means possible to shut down the voices of those investigating corruption.”
Turkey has imprisoned 68 journalists in 2018, the most of any country, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports.