After a lawsuit was filed against investigative journalist, Pelin Ünker, for her reporting on the Paradise Papers, an Istanbul court has found her guilty of defaming Turkey’s former Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim. For speaking against Yildirim and reporting on his confirmed offshore activities, Ünker has been sentenced to thirteen months in jail and a substantial fee. However, this unjust ruling is truly unique, as it appears to have involved several political motivations in an effort to send a message to other Turkish journalists and silence similar reports in the future.
The Paradise Papers
But, what exactly are the Paradise Papers? The Paradise Papers are essentially a vast collection of leaked documents including emails, deeds, loan agreements, financial statements, and additional documents that reveal how several politicians, celebrities, and entire corporations stored hidden profits in offshore tax havens. The documents were initially leaked to a German newspaper from offshore service providers. However, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) agreed to review the documents before publishing any written work on the released documents. This movement brought together the investigative journalists and media partners of six continents; Pelin Ünker was one of these journalists.
Ünker’s work mainly revolved around the offshore activities of Turkey’s former Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, and his two sons. She found that both Yildirim and his sons owned companies in Malta, and wrote a series of pieces which reported how these figures founded multiple companies in a tax haven. Although numerous journalists would eventually publish pieces following other notable figures and their tax manipulation, only Ünker would be sentenced for her involvement in the Paradise Papers.
Acceptance and Punishment
One of the most astonishing factors of this sentencing is that Yildirim and his sons did not deny their involvement in the alleged activities. In fact, although having filed the lawsuit against Ünker, Yildirim admitted that the Maltese companies were owned by him and his sons. Yet, Ünker is the only one charged with jail time and a substantial fine. However following the sentencing, Ünker shares that the outcome of the trial came as no shock, stating, “This decision is not a surprise for us. Because the result was certain from the beginning. There is no criminal offense or defamation in my articles,”.
The Election Connection
The decision made by the Istanbul court to punish Ünker for reporting her findings of the fraudulent activities of Yildirim and his sons comes around the same time as Yildirim has been nominated for the mayorship of Istanbul, providing a possible political motive for this harsh and unjust penalty. While Yildirim has been nominated for the mayorship, he has yet to be elected, making it possible that this ruling was pushed through prior to the local elections in order to benefit his outcome and send a message to other Turkish journalists.
The Future of Turkish Journalists
Will the Istanbul court ruling work to intimidate Turkish reporters? Even after being sentenced, Ünker is not so sure. “They want to silence journalists by decisions like this. Of course, we will continue doing journalism. We’re going to do what other journalists do.”, she said.
Ünker also shared that Turkish journalists have dealt with the effects of political motivations for years, and that she is merely just one of the victims of this abuse.
Looking ahead, the future of Turkish journalists seems uncertain. For the time being, it appears as though many of the current leaders in place will continue to be driven by their political motives in an attempt to silence and intimidate the journalists that surface and report their fraudulent activities. We can only hope that a safe and just environment will be restored to allow Turkish journalists to do their duty for the public, and in the meantime that they remain brave and unaffected by the attacks of their politicians. However, the harsh and unreasonable sentencing of Ünker is an unsettling indication of what’s to come for the people of Turkey and their freedom.
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