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TURKEY was condemned for its attacks on press freedom today after former Cumhuriyet journalist Pelin Unker was sentenced to more than a year in jail and a heavy fine, after having exposed allegations of corruption.
Ms Unker was found to have “defamed and insulted” former prime minister Binali Yildirim, who is now parliament’s speaker, and his two sons Erkam and Bulent. The Istanbul court sentenced her to one year, one month and 15 days in prison, alongside an 8,860 lira (£1,228) fine.
The charges were brought after she reported on offshore companies that allegedly belonged Mr Yildirim’s sons in the tax-haven island of Malta.
In 2015, the Paradise Papers revealed some 13.4 million confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investments by which the rich and wealthy hid their money in shell companies.
According to the documents, the Yildirims owned five companies registered in Malta: South Seas Shipping NV, Nova Warrior Ltd, Dertel Shipping Ltd, Hawke Bay Marine Co Ltd and Black Eagle Marine Co Ltd.
It is alleged that the companies were registered in Malta to avoid paying higher rates in Turkey.
Mr Yildirim, whose family became wealthy through the shipping industry, confirmed that his sons owned businesses in Malta but denied any wrongdoing or unlawful activity.
But despite claiming his sons did not have immunity, two calls for investigations into the alleged offshore accounts were rejected in parliamentary votes backed by his ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) in October 2017.
Ms Unker, who is believed to be the first journalist to be sentenced in relation to the Paradise Papers, said she had expected the decision and would appeal.
“It was already expected on the last day of the trial that there would be a sentence. Indeed, there was always the feeling that a defence was pointless.
“The judgement was predictable. Here, journalism itself was punished,” she said.
Global Witness spokeswoman Ava Lee expressed concern over the verdict and said it was part of a wider trend of using “any means possible to shut down those exposing corruption.
“Jailing journalists is one way to silence their stories. Killing them is another. 2018 saw a doubling in journalists murdered for their reporting.”
Evrensel daily cartoonist Sefer Selvu was fined 10,000 lira (£1,430) last November after the newspaper published a caricature of Mr Yildirim and his sons. They said it depicted them as tax-evaders, making them appear “ridiculous and comical.”
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