Turkey: British journalist released from detention and election results offer hope to jailed journalists as opposition parties win in Ankara and Istanbul

By Jane Whyatt

Wins for opposition parties in the Ankara and Istanbul local elections are a cause for optimism, according to journalist Pelin Ünker. She faces a jail sentence of thirteen months for alleged ’defamation’ after reporting on the Paradise Papers.

Nevertheless, a Turkish court dismissed a second case against her on 28. March because the court proceedings ran out of time. The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom supported her court case from its Legal Assistance Fund.

Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) commented: “We welcome the dismissal of the case, but are still concerned about her previous conviction” (January 2019). Ünker still faces 13 months in jail on charges of defamation and ‘insult’. We call on the authorities to overturn this verdict on appeal.

Speaking in an interview to the ECPMF, Ünker cautiously welcomed the election results, which gave the opposition party CHP control of the local governments in the capital Ankara and the important cities of Istanbul and Izmir.

She welcomed the solidarity shown by journalists in EU countries and the European media freedom community. Furthermore, she called on Turkish journalists to do their jobs in Turkey rather than leaving the country to seek greener pastures. Read the full interview here.

"The murder of Jamal Khashoggi flashed through my mind"

Meanwhile Steve Sweeney,  the international editor of UK’s left-wing national newspaper the Morning Star, is back in Britain after being detained in Turkey as a so-called 'national security risk'.

“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi flashed through my mind. It is not beyond the realms of possibility for the Turkish state to carry out a similar act,” he told the UK Press Gazette. Washington Post columnist Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul six months ago.

Interview with Pelin Ünker


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. Read more...

The British and Irish National Union of Journalists (NUJ) condemned Sweeney’s detention. In a statement, NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said:

“Journalists should be able to carry out their work in Turkey without fear of intimidation and persecution. The union is supporting Turkish journalists who have been incarcerated by the brutal regime in Turkey, which has abused press freedom at all levels. Steve Sweeney should have the right to carry out his job as a journalist and not be denounced in a trumped-up accusation of being a security threat. That is why we are supporting the adoption of the IFJ’s draft UN Convention on protection of journalists to protect the rights and safety of the press.”

Turkish authorities detained Sweeney on his way to a reporting assignment in Diyarbakir, a predominantly Kurdish region of Turkey. After questioning, he was out on a flight back to London, where the UK anti-terrorism police returned his passport and mobile phone to him.

The Turkish government is still contesting the municipal election results in Turkey. However, it seems that former Cumhuriyet editor Erdem Gül, who stood as an opposition CHP candidate, won the mayoral race in Istanbul.

Turkish authorities prosecuted Gül and his colleague Can Dündar for publishing an investigative report showing that the Turkish secret service was smuggling arms to war-torn Syria disguised as a humanitarian aid shipment. Together they received the Leipzig Prize for Freedom and Future of the Media 2016. Erdem Gül’s fellow laureate Can Dündar now lives in exile in Germany and has founded a news portal, Özguruz.