Twenty-one international NGOs and journalists organizations on Friday issued a statement calling for the dropping of a lawsuit filed against academic and cyber-rights activist Yaman Akdeniz by the owner of the pro-government Turkuvaz Media Group, for his tweets about the censorship of reports on criminal investigations and civil lawsuits against journalists who reported on the Paradise Papers.
Owner of the media group Serhat Albayrak, the brother of Berat Albayrak, former finance minister and President Erdoğan’s son-in-law, is seeking 100,000 Turkish lira (€9,600) in damages for the violation of his personal rights.
In their statement the NGOs said they consider the case to be a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP), an abusive legal action aimed not to be won but to intimidate and silence voices that are critical and hold power to account.
“We condemn the compensation lawsuit launched against Prof Akdeniz and call for dismissal of this SLAPP action,” the statement said. “We call for an end to the use of SLAPPs to harass and intimidate journalists, academics and human rights defenders by the politicians and powerful individuals with close ties with the Turkish government.”
The Albayrak brothers and Çalık Holding previously sued journalist Pelin Ünker over her series about offshore accounts owned by the brothers from the time they were executives of Çalık Holding. The slander case was dismissed by a court in December 2020. In March 2021 the Turkish Freedom of Expression Association (İFÖD) reported that news reports on the court decision were banned by court order. Akdeniz, the co-founder of IFÖD, tweeted about the order. In April 2021 another access ban was ordered by the court at the request of Serhat Albayrak on Akdeniz’s tweet about the censorship of the reports.
According to the statement the censorship of reporting related to the Paradise Papers is part of a wider context where the right to freedom of expression and access to information has been systematically undermined by the Turkish government.
“Overbroad counter-terrorism laws are routinely misused by the Turkish authorities to harass journalists, human rights defenders, politicians, academics, lawyers even doctors,” it said. “SLAPPs are also used as a form of legal harassment by powerful individuals and organizations to avoid public scrutiny, to intimidate and chill critical voices. Many of these lawsuits are initiated by politicians and business people close to the government in Turkey.”
The Paradise Papers are a set of 13.4 million confidential electronic documents relating to offshore accounts. The documents were leaked to reporters at the German Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, who shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. More than 90 outlets published stories based on the leaks. According to the statement, Turkey is the only country where journalists were investigated for reporting on the leaks.
The organizations that signed the statement include Article 19, Pen International, International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Association of European Journalists (AEJ) and the International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR).