Interview with Turkish journalist Pelin Ünker

By Jane Whyatt

Turkish jouralist Pelin Ünker cannot celebrate the fact that a court has ended proceedings against her on charges of defamation arising from her coverage of the Paradise Papers investigation. That’s because she has already been convicted on other charges and faces 13 months in jail, just for doing her job.

Turkish Journalist Pelin Ünker. Source: Twitter

In an interview with ECPMF, she explains why she will stay in Turkey to serve her time if the Appeal Court does not overturn the verdict.

Q. What was your reaction to your latest court case?

The judge dismissed my second case against me due to administrative reasons.

I am surprised because it was the same judge and same accusation of defamation but I got lucky. In Turkey, the law requires that prosecutors submit an indictment within four months and the court dismissed it because of that; prosecutors ran out of time. In the first defamation case, I they sentenced me to one year one month and sixteen days in jail.

Q: When will you have to serve your sentence?

I do not know. In Turkey as you know, there are no assurances on how trials proceed, so we wait for a decision from the Appeal Court and there is no time schedule, only waiting.

Q: What is it like to be waiting?

As journalists in Turkey, we are used to this situation. I am working now. Many journalists are in the same position as me, a lot of us are in jail and many face unfounded accusations, like me. I want to keep doing my job and do my best.

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Q: What is your view of the election results – will they change things?

Maybe the opposition parties can change things. When the AKP (ruling government party headed by Erdogan) first won, it was in the local elections and then they won nationally. Hence, many things can change after this election. However, first they must accept the election results.

Q: How optimistic are you that that will happen?

I am not so pessimistic about that because... now a lot of people can see that there is corruption and in the cities things are not going great. Therefore, I can say I am optimistic.

Q: What can the media freedom community do to support Turkish journalists?

Solidarity is the most important thing because in Turkey a lot of journalists are in the same situation as me. Therefore, support from European Union countries is very important for us. Nonetheless, Turkish journalists must do something first. We must make things change. Some journalists only do what the government wants and so firstly, we must change this. Turkish journalists must do their job. After that, other countries can of course support those journalists in Turkey who still want to do their jobs properly.

Q: What is the impact on your family of knowing that you must go to jail?

I live with my husband and my son, who is twenty months old. They are OK because my son does not know anything about it. In addition, we are used to this, because a lot of people – not only journalists, academics and other educated people face the same pressures in Turkey. Some people want to go abroad because they want to live in a democratic state, so they just leave. I think we must all do our jobs. We must do something here in Turkey. It is our country; it is not only for AKP voters.

Q: When you go to jail how will it be for your husband and your little boy?

Normally I will not need to serve my entire sentence, but it is hard to tell beforehand. There is no legal guarantees in Turkey. First, we have to wait for the result of the appeal...