Award-winning Turkish investigative journalist, Pelin Ünker, and her newspaper, Cumhuriyet, are being sued in Turkey over alleged defamation.
The suit filed by influential allies of Turkey’s autocratic president, Recep Erdogan, do not claim factual errors or inaccuracies but seek financial penalties for alleged damage to their reputations.
Among those identified as parties in the suit are Turkey’s former prime minister, Binali Yildirim, President Erdogan’s son-in-law and powerful finance minister Berat Albayrak, and members of their families. The president’s allies filed defamation actions against the award-winning journalist, who is also member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The next court date, according to ICIJ, is November 22.
Last November, Cumhuriyet published a series of stories as part of the global Paradise Papers investigation that revealed how politicians, multinational corporations and criminals had hidden money offshore and avoided taxes.
PREMIUM TIMES, the only Nigerian platform involved in the investigation, also published details of the offshore arrangements involving Nigerian politicians, including Senate President Bukola Saraki among other political bigwigs.
In Turkey, Ünker and Cumhuriyet focused on opaque dealings by some of the country’s most powerful individuals, including allies of President Erdogan, who reports claim does not tolerate dissent.
Cumhuriyet is said to be one of Turkey’s oldest newspapers, and it is one of the country’s very last independent media outlets, in a country where major mainstream media now belong to government-affiliated investors. The media are used to wage a propaganda war against the opposition and civil society, Deloire said.
Berat Albayrak accused Cumhuriyet of “calumny” after the newspaper published details about the company he formerly managed and about his brother Serhat, listed as a director of a Malta company named Frocks International Trading Ltd.
According to the Paradise Papers documents, the company used nominees, which can be used to conceal the identity of real shareholders. Set up in 2003 and closed in 2009, documents from the Maltese company registry showed that Frocks International Trading Ltd. was in the garment and textile business.
Investigations revealed that throughout the same period, Berat and Serhat Albayrak were senior managers of Turkish textile, energy and media conglomerate Çalık Holding. Berat, who married President Erdogan’s daughter in 2014, was CEO of Çalık from 2007 to 2013.
Cumhuriyet’s report showed that Çalık has expanded rapidly under the favorable gaze of Erdogan’s government, as it received a $750 million loan from state-owned banks in 2007 in a non-competitive bid to buy a media company. Çalık Holding however told Cumhuriyet before publication that Frocks International Ltd. had never been used and had made no commercial transactions.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Turkey 157th of 180 countries on the 2018 World Free Press Index. The organisation described Turkey as “the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists.”
“President Erdogan and people close to him don’t tolerate dissent,” RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire told ICIJ in July. Investigative reporting has been increasingly targeted since 2013, Deloire added.
Earlier on Monday, a Myanmar judge had found two Reuters journalists guilty of breaching a law on state secrets and jailed them for seven years, in a landmark case seen as a test of progress towards democracy in the Southeast Asian country.
Yangon northern district judge, Ye Lwin, said Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, breached the colonial-era Official Secrets Act when they collected and obtained confidential documents while reporting on Myanmar’s violence-plagued Rakhine State.
Press freedom advocates, the UN, the European Union and countries including the United States, Canada and Australia had called for the journalists’ acquittal.
“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere,” Reuters editor in chief Stephen Adler said in a statement.
“We will not wait while Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo suffer this injustice and will evaluate how to proceed in the coming days, including whether to seek relief in an international forum.”