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DW contributor Pelin Unker's case dismissed in Turkey

March 28, 2019

A high-profile slander case against DW contributor Pelin Unker has been thrown out in Turkey due to a statute of limitations. The reporter had already been sentenced in a similar case over her "Paradise Papers" reports.

Pelin Unker, Turkish journalist
Image: Bradley Secker

Turkey: Unker case dropped

A court in Istanbul has rejected "defamation and slander through press" charges against freelance journalist Pelin Unker, who also works as a contributor for DW.

The presiding judge said that the case would be dismissed due to the statute of limitations specified in the Turkish Press Law.

Talking to DW correspondent Julia Hahn, Unker said the trials against reporters "are aimed at intimidating us."

"I feel relieved," Unker said, "but there's a bitter taste to it."

Unker was facing slander charges filed by Minister of Finance and Treasury Berat Albayrak, his brother Serhat Albayrak, and businessman Ahmet Calik, over reports on the trio allegedly using tax havens.

"A journalist has never been sentenced to prison for publishing about the Paradise Papers anywhere in the world — this only happens in Turkey," Unker told DW. "Instead, elsewhere, the authorities have actually taken some action against these tax heavens."

On Thursday, Unker's lawyer Abbas Yalcin claimed the indictment against the reporter took longer than four months to prepare. This is the maximum period under Turkish law. His motion for dismissal was eventually accepted by Judge Nursel Bedir.

"When the verdict was announced, the judge said “Unfortunately, I have to drop the charges” and she looked at Mr. Albayrak’s lawyers apologetically," Unker said. "This says a lot about the current state of the judiciary in this country." 

In a separate case in January, a court in Istanbul sentenced Unker to 13 months and 15 days in prison, along with a fine of 8,600 Turkish lira (€1379, $1,549) for "insulting and slandering a public official."

Turkey sentences DW journalist

Working from information that was released as part of the "Panama Papers," Unker published an investigation in the left-leaning Cumhuriyet newspaper that revealed that former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and his two sons were tied to five offshore companies in Malta. She remained free pending her appeal.

Many supporters of Unker attended the Thursday hearing, according to activists who monitored the trial on behalf of Turkey's Media and Law Studies Association.

Reporters under never-ending threat

Ankara's treatment of reporters has led to criticism and a prolonged diplomatic crisis with Berlin, as many of the journalists arrested or forced to leave Turkey are German citizens.

The worst row between Berlin and Ankara was triggered over Die Welt reporter Deniz Yücel. He spent a year in an Istanbul jail without trial before eventually being allowed to return to Germany in February 2018.

Read more: Free speech crisis in Turkey

In a similar case, reporter Mesale Tolu was arrested in spring 2017 and denied the right to travel until August 2018.

The terrorist charges made against both journalists are still under investigation in Turkey.

German journalists: 'The goal here is to influence reporting'

Cologne reporter Adil Demirci was also accused of terror links and barred from leaving Istanbul.

Most recently, several German correspondents were denied Turkish press accreditation, effectively expunging them from Turkey.

av, dj/jm (DW, dpa)

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