Turkish investigative journalist and Pulitzer prize winner Pelin Unker has been sentenced to 13 months in prison and a fine over EUR 1000 for reporting on the Paradise Papers revelations.
Pelin, a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), discovered that the Turkish former prime minister, Binali Yildirim and his two sons Erkan and Bulent Yildirim owned secret companies in Malta, a well-known tax haven. Despite reporting an actual fact that was not only publicly available information, as well as of interest to the Turkish people, charges of defamation were filed against her.
Interestingly enough, the ex-prime minister and his sons did not deny the fact that they set up these structures, and the petition of complained filed with the Istanbul court makes no mention of this. But this did not stop the court finding Unker guilty making the case a world first both in terms of the fact that no false facts were reported, but also because they are the first politicians in the world to successfully sue over the Paradise Papers.
The story was published in Turkish newspaper “Cumhuriyet’, one of the countries oldest and last remaining independent news sources.
Turkey is well known for its shocking record in terms of journalists rights and its lack of freedom of speech. According to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, by the end of 2018 there were at least 68 journalists in prison for ‘crimes against the state’ and the country ranks 157th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Free Press Index. The organisation also referred to Turkey as “the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists.”
Gerard Ryle, the Director of the ICIJ made a public statement shortly after the news broke, calling the punishment a “disgraceful attack on free speech in Turkey” that sought only to “silence fair and accurate reporting” in the country.
Editor and Co-Founder of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Projected added:
“Pelin Unker, a respected Turkish journalist has been jailed for her Paradise Papers work. This is outrageous and shows the true colors of the Erdogan regime.”
This news comes at a time when freedom of speech, particularly in the media is coming increasingly under threat. In 2018 alone, over 30 journalists were murdered and hundreds more jailed unjustly for their pursuance of the truth.
Concerns have also been raised here in Albania over press freedom with RSF ranking Albania 74 out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom. The report highlights many problems with the Albanian media stating that regulatory standards are manipulated in favour of the government and that the majority of media platforms are owned by a few big businessmen, all with political agendas. Furthermore, it recognises the fact that 80% of journalists have no confidence in their professional future and those that continue to pursue their work are often targeted with abuse from the Prime Minister himself.
In addition to this, concerns over freedom of the press have been growing in the country following Edi Rama’s announcement of proposed laws that will essentially bring every blog, news website, and media platform under the control of the government. Under the new laws, every media outlet will be forced to register and they risk being shut down at the discretion of the government, as a pre-emptive action before facing court action or any kind of legal process. The plans have drawn widespread condemnation from local and international journalists and media organisations including the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the European Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and PEN International, yet Rama seems intent to proceed with the draconian and authoritarian laws.