Ünker is accused of “insulting a public official” for her coverage of “Paradise Papers” leaks, published in the daily Cumhuriyet in 2017
Journalist Pelin Ünker on 27 December appeared before an Istanbul court for the first hearing of a case where she is accused of “insulting a public official” in her coverage of the “Paradise Papers” leaks, published in 2017 in the Cumhuriyet daily.
The case was filed by Speaker of the Parliament — AKP’s nominee for Mayor of Istanbul in the upcoming local elections and former Prime Minister —Binali Yıldırım’s lawyers, who also sued the journalist for “violating the personal rights” of the Yıldırım family in the same news reports, seeking TL 500,000 in non-pecuniary damages. That lawsuit is now on hold, awaiting the outcome of this case.
Binali Yıldırım’s two sons as well as his nephew were reportedly associated with at least five companies mentioned in the “Paradise Papers” leaks, a set of 13.4 million leaked confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investments by around 120 high-profile names from around the world.
P24 monitored Thursday’s hearing at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. Ünker and her lawyer Abbas Yalçın and the plaintiffs’ lawyer Muhammed Gök were in attendance.
At the start of the hearing, Ünker’s lawyer requested that this case be merged with the other lawsuit against Ünker, which the court rejected. The lawyer then requested a continuance in order for Ünker to prepare her defense statement, which the judge also rejected and said Ünker should make her defense statement during this hearing.
Ünker then began her defense statement, in which she explained that the news reports for which she was accused were not only about Binali Yıldırım and his sons but that numerous well-known figures were also mentioned in both stories.
Ünker continued: “The stories also mentioned Binali Yıldırım’s uncle and nephew, however, no complaints were filed concerning these people. Binali Yıldırım did not deny the existence of the said companies in the statement he issued after the news broke. On the contrary, he said these kinds of trade relations were not unusual. The news stories did not claim the said offshore companies were illegal businesses; they said these companies were avoiding paying taxes through the loopholes in legislation. The news stories did not say this was a crime; they questioned how ethical it was.”
Adding that her stories did not include any insulting expressions, Ünker also told the court that she sent seven questions to Yıldırım’s lawyers concerning the leaks two weeks before the publication of the story, but that she never got a response.
Addressing the court following Ünker, her lawyer told the court that the newspaper published Binali Yıldırım’s statement concerning the leaks in its entirety and that it also ran his rebuttal. The lawyer added that the headline of a related story in the newspaper which read, “Head of the government avoiding tax,” was not Ünker’s statement but a remark by a main opposition CHP MP.
Addressing the court following Ünker’s lawyer Yalçın, the plaintiffs’ lawyer Muhammed Gök said the headlines of the news stories “gave the impression that the then-prime minister was involved in [tax evasion].”
Gök said that they did not respond to the questions Ünker sent because they “were irrelevant with the news.” “They were incriminating and biased questions. We did not have to respond,” Gök said.
In response to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ünker said the phrase “Head of the government avoiding tax” had not appeared in any part of her stories and that it had been the headline of another story published in the newspaper. She also explained that the questions she had sent to Yıldırım were not aimed at incriminating the politician but at seeking for information.
Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the judge adjourned the case until 8 January 2019 for the final defense statement to be prepared.