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Court throws out second defamation case against Turkish journalist who reported Paradise Papers leak

The only journalist to be prosecuted over the Paradise Papers investigation had a second case against her dismissed today.

Freelance journalist Pelin Unker (pictured) was found guilty of defaming a former Turkish prime minister in January.

She faced a second defamation case in Istanbul today, but this has been dismissed on the basis that it was started outside the statute of limitations.

The Paradise Papers saw more than 90 media organisations publish stories based on a leaked set of 13.4m confidential electronic documents relating to offshore documents in 2017.

Unker, a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which shared the documents after they were leaked to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, worked on the investigation for Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, where she was a correspondent and editor for ten years.

The case which was thrown out today saw her accused of calumny – spreading false information to damage someone’s reputation – by Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s minister of finance and treasury and the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, alongside his brother Serhat and businessman Ahmet Calik.

The case related to a series of articles published in Cumhuriyet in November 2017 about the Albayrak brothers.

UK-based freedom of expression charity Article 19 planned to submit an expert opinion to the court to say a conviction would breach EU and international human rights laws and Unker’s right to freedom of expression.

In January, Unker was found guilty of defaming former Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim and his sons. She was sentenced to 13 months in prison and fined $1,615, but said she intended to appeal.

Unker has been named on a new list of the ten most urgent cases of journalists whose press freedom rights are being abused or whose cases demand justice by the One Free Press Coalition, which includes the Financial Times, Reuters, Associated Press and Huffpost.

Sarah Clarke, Article 19’s head of Europe and Central Asia, said: “We welcome the court’s decision to dismiss this case brought by Turkey’s Finance Minister against Ünker for reporting uncontested facts concerning his offshore accounts in Malta.

“That this case – which sought to criminalise investigative journalism – ever made it to court demonstrates the dire situation for press freedom in Turkey.

“We remain deeply concerned that Unker is still facing 13 months in prison for her conviction in a January 2019 case where she was found guilty of defamation and ‘insult’ for revealing details of the business activities of Turkey’s former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his sons. This sentence must be overturned.”

Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index ranked Turkey 157th out of 180 countries, citing a “witch hunt” of media critics by President Erdogan’s government.

Unker remains the only journalist to be convicted for taking part in the Paradise Papers investigation.

The Guardian and BBC settled a dispute with offshore law firm Appleby last year after it tried to use a breach of confidence claim to force the disclosure of documents which informed their Paradise Papers reporting.

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