Journalist Ünker sentenced to 13,5 months in prison for Paradise Papers reporting

8 January 2019

İstanbul - Cumhuriyet daily former finance editor and reporter Pelin Ünker, charged with “insulting public officials” for reporting on the Paradise Papers, received a 1-year 1-month and 15-day prison sentence, and an 8 thousand 660 TL fine.

Facing numerous proceedings due to her Paradise Papers coverage, journalist Pelin Ünker was sued by former Prime Minister (PM) Binali Yıldırım and his sons, on “insulting public officials” charges. Ünker and her lawyers Abbas Yalçın and Tora Pekin were present in the hearing, which was monitored by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu.

Yıldırım and his sons’ lawyer Muhammed Gök, was the first to speak in the hearing. He said, “We are repeating our previous statements. My clients’ personal rights were violated. They were insulted, and slandered through being called thieves.”

Noting his client cannot be prosecuted due to news reports she did not pen, lawyer Yalçın said, “Titled ‘Head of government evading taxes’, this news report which was not penned by my client, was not included in the article series.”

Emphasizing that the two news reports included in the complaint filed by plaintiffs, were published after the article series was over and that those were not written by Ünker either. Yalçın reminded the court of the Press Law and remarked that Ünker cannot be held responsible for reports she did not write.

‘The public has the right to know and read about the Paradise Papers’

Expressing that the Paradise Papers had wide media coverage all around the world, Ünker’s lawyer Pekin said that Ünker was the only journalist to be sued due to her coverage of the leak. Pekin added, “As the bill of complaint reveals, the news report is true. It is not illegal to establish an offshore company, and that is not what the report claims either. This is not a legal discussion, but an ethical one. There is no law to prevent a politician’s sons from establishing offshore companies to evade taxes. Their doing so might not be criticized by some parts of the society whereas the rest might find it unethical. The public has the right to know and read about the Paradise Papers. Therefore the ‘Everyone can establish a company in Malta’ clause in the bill of complaint is insignificant. My client Pelin Ünker has carried out her job to inform the public on the leak. We request her acquittal.”

After Pekin’s defense, Ünker rose to make a final statement and said, “I have done my job as a journalist. The article series concerned public figures, who were granted the right to comment on them before they were published. They chose not to comment, and we thought the public had the right to be informed.”

After a short recess the court made a final decision, imposing Ünker a fine of 8 thousand 660 TL on “insulting public officials” and sentencing her to 1 year 1 month and 15 days in prison on “slander” charges, without adjourning the punishment. Ünker’s lawyers said they’ll take the case before the Appeal Court.