Freedom of expression organisation ARTICLE 19 has welcomed an Istanbul’s court’s decision to dismiss one of two cases against Paradise Papers’ journalist, Pelin Ünker today.
- An Istanbul court has dismissed the case against Paradise Papers’ journalist on charges of calumny on the basis that it was taken outside the statute of limitations. The case was brought over articles about offshore companies owned by President Erdogan’s son-in-law.
- ARTICLE 19 intervened in the case arguing that Ünker’s conviction would break European and international human rights law and violates her right to freedom of expression.
- ARTICLE 19 is now calling for Ünker’s previous conviction for defamation to be overturned on appeal.
Charges of calumny, the crime of spreading false information to damage someone’s reputation, had been brought against Ünker by Minister of Finance and Treasury, Berat Albayrak, his brother Serhat Albayrak and the businessman Ahmet Çalık. Berat Albayrak is the son-in-law of Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan.
The case was dismissed on a technicality because it was brought outside the statute of limitations. However, ARTICLE 19 insists that these charges – which would effectively criminalise investigative journalism in the public interest – should never have been brought. In an intervention prepared for the to case, ARTICLE 19 argued that charges in this case violated international and European human rights law.
ARTICLE 19’s Head of Europe and Central Asia, Sarah Clarke said:
“We welcome the court’s decision to dismiss this case brought by Turkey’s Finance Minister against Ünker for reporting uncontested facts concerning his offshore accounts in Malta. That this case – which sought to criminalise investigative journalism – ever made it to court demonstrates the dire situation for press freedom in Turkey.
“We remain deeply concerned that Ünker is still facing 13 months in prison for her conviction in a January 2019 case where she was found guilty of defamation and ‘insult’ for revealing details of the business activities of Turkey’s former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his sons. This sentence must be overturned.”
This verdict does little to change the overall state of media freedom in Turkey, where over 160 journalists are in prison.
The case against Ünker was based on an article series published in Cumhuriyet newspaper and website on 6 and 11 November 2017, under the headings “Off-Shore Brothers”, which revealed that the Albayrak brothers has set up offshore companies in Malta. In one of the articles, Ünker called for tax laws to be reconsidered in light of this practice.
In January 2019, Ünker was found guilty of defamation and ‘insult’ for revealing details of the business activities of Turkey’s former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his sons.
In February 2019, Ünker was due to attend a UN event in Geneva but couldn’t because her husband and 13-month-old son were denied a visa by the Turkish authorities. In a video address to the event , Ünker said of the case, “the fact that I was charged at all shows the state of media freedom in Turkey”. Watch her address here.
Notes to Editor
Pelin Ünker is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a network of more than 380 journalists and leading media organisations.
The Paradise Papers are a set of 13.4 million confidential electronic documents relating to offshore documents, The documents were leaked to reporters at the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, who shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. More than 90 outlets published stories based on the leaks. To date, Turkey is the only country where a journalist has been investigated for reporting on the leaks.