Journalist Pelin Ünker penned a series of articles on the documents generally known as the “Paradise Papers”, in Cumhuriyet Newspaper in November 2017.
The articles covered the documents widely known as “Paradise Papers”, which revealed the off-shore deposits in tax havens of the world’s most powerful and wealthy individuals including politicians. Approximately 13.4 million documents were obtained by the German Süddeutsche Zeitung and then shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in November 2017. Cumhuriyet Newspaper figured among the 100 media groups that examined and published the said documents.
In the article series, Ünker provided information about the companies of the then Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s family in Malta, considered to be a “tax haven”.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his sons Erkam and Bülent Yıldırım filed against Ünker a lawsuit for damages, claiming that their “personal rights were violated” with the articles in question.
They claimed that the articles published on November 6th, 7th and 8th, 2017 “violated the personal rights of Binali Yıldırım and his sons Erkam and Bülent Yıldırım during the former’s term in office as Prime Minister”.
It was further alleged that the articles “deliberately violated their personal rights by manipulating the public’s perception”.
In the petition, the complainants demanded 250 thousand TL for Binali Yıldırım and 125 thousand TL for each of his sons -totaling 500 thousand TL- in moral damages from Pelin Ünker; Orhan Erinç, the then concessionaire of Cumhuriyet; as well as Yenigün News Agency, the company publishing Cumhuriyet.
The first hearing took place on July 17th, 2018 at Istanbul Anadolu 24. Court of First Instance. The hearing was adjourned for the collection of the written statements.
The third hearing was held on September 6th, 2018. Yıldırım family’s lawyer Muhammed Gök presented a document showing that they had also filed a criminal lawsuit against Ünker. The court ruled to await the outcome of the criminal lawsuit before reaching a verdict on the damages. The lawsuit for damages was thus momentarily suspended.
On January 8th, 2019, a verdict was reached in the criminal case filed against Ünker. Accordingly, she was sentenced to a fine of 8 thousand 660 TL on the charge of “insulting a public officer” and to 1 year, 1 month, 15 days in prison on the charge of “slander”.
Ünker appealed against the verdict. However, the court presiding over the lawsuit for damages resumed legal proceedings without waiting for the result of the appeal process.
Following the initial verdict at the criminal case, the lawsuit for damages resumed on February 28th, 2019. Yıldırım family’s lawyer, Muhammed Gök stated that their demand for moral damages was still standing, and said, “My client’s reputation and dignity have been damaged in public. Ünker has breached the limits of the freedom of press.”
Abbas Yalçın, the lawyer of Pelin Ünker and Orhan Erinç, requested that the demand for damages be rejected by the court. Cumhuriyet Newspaper’s lawyer Buket Yazıcı, on the other hand, stated that there was no violation of the personal rights of the Yıldırım family, and that the articles fell within the scope of the freedom of expression and press.
The court announced its verdict at this hearing, sentencing Pelin Ünker and Orhan Erinç to a total fine of 30 thousand TL.
The court also ruled that the defendants had to pay the payment for damages together with the interest that would have accrued since November 6th, 2017, the date of publication of the article.
The defendants have appealed against the verdict, and the appeal process is still ongoing.
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