NEW YORK—The sentencing of journalist Pelin Ünker to 13 months in prison and a fine of 8.660 Turkish lira for “insulting” and “slandering” the former Prime Minister and his sons is a brazen assault on investigative journalism, PEN America said today.

A member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), Ünker reported on companies in Malta owned by the former prime minister, now speaker of the Turkish parliament, Binali Yıldırım and his sons, as part of the ‘Paradise Papers’ coverage published in Cumhuriyet. Ünker reported that Yıldırım evaded tax over his off-shore companies, which was of public interest; additionally, Yıldırım did not deny the accuracy of her claims, reportedly acknowledging both the existence of such companies and his affiliation with them. Ünker was convicted in November 2017 and sentenced on January 8. Because Ünker’s lawyers are set to file an appeal against the trial court decision within a week, she was not taken into custody. The regional appeal court could issue a ruling with a few months, and if the sentence is upheld, she will be jailed. In addition to the criminal complaints, Yıldırım also filed a civil lawsuit for defamation, claiming 500.000 Turkish Liras of damages. On September 18, 2018, this lawsuit was put on hold to wait for the decision of the criminal court.

“Pelin Ünker’s conviction and sentencing is a travesty, and represents yet another blow to the ability of Turkish investigative journalists to work freely,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We condemn the decisioncall for her acquittal on appeal, and stand by Ünker and other courageous journalists who continue to uncover corruption and other types of malfeasance in the public interest, despite the widespread climate of fear in Turkey.”

Following the July 2016 coup attempt and the imposition of a state of emergency by the current government, freedom of expression and of the press has virtually disappeared in Turkey. More than 180 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree, and there are more than 100 writers, journalists, and media workers in prison, making Turkey the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world. PEN America has campaigned on behalf of a number of those writers incarcerated or otherwise facing restrictions on their freedom of expression or movement, including the Altan brothersAhmet Sik, and Zehra Doğan.

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