On Wednesday, an Istanbul court sentenced Ekrem Imamoglu, the city’s mayor, to prison and barred him from politics in a case widely seen as a politically motivated effort by President Tayyip Erdogan to stifle his biggest rival ahead of elections next year.
An appeals court must confirm the two-year-seven-month jail sentence and ban on public office for insulting officials after he won Istanbul’s municipal election in 2019, prosecutors said.
Even though riot police were stationed outside the courthouse on the Asian side of the city of 17 million people, Imamoglu continued to work as usual and dismissed the court proceedings.
Erdogan said that the verdict at his municipal headquarters across the Bosphorus in Istanbul proved that ‘there is no justice in today’s Turkey.’
He said people would react in next June’s presidential and parliamentary elections if voters were required to cast ballots in person.
An overwhelming ‘no’ vote in Istanbul and other cities could be the most serious threat yet to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions to extend his reign into a third decade, as a collapsing currency and rampant inflation drive up living costs for the Turkish people.
The alliance of six parties still has to select a presidential candidate, and Imamoglu is thought to be a strong competitor against Erdogan.
In response to what he called a “grave violation of the law and justice,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the CHP, said he was cutting short a visit to Germany and returning to Turkey.
The State Department’s principal deputy spokesperson, Vedant Patel, expressed his dismay and deep concern over the verdict. He also expressed his disagreement, saying, “This unjust verdict is at odds with respect for human rights, freedom, and the rule of law.”
Nacho Sanchez Amor, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, was stunned by the ‘unbelievable’ verdict.
“It is a very sad day for Turkey’s justice system, which has been horribly abused for political ends.
In the wake of the Istanbul local elections, in which he lost to an AK Party candidate by a razor-thin margin, Imamoglu was convicted of making an inflammatory speech. According to Imamoglu, his own ‘fools’ comment was a response to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu’s identical insult towards him.
His victory in the re-run election ended 25 years of rule by the AKP and its Islamist predecessors in Istanbul, the country’s largest city.
The CHP and other opposition parties must coalesce around a single candidate in order to challenge Erdogan and the AKP, which has governed Turkey since 2002, in the next year’s elections.
In 1999, Erdogan was briefly imprisoned for reciting a poem that a court determined was a call for religious strife, before rising to dominate Turkish national politics again.
In a tweet from jail, where he is serving time for links to Kurdish militants, Selahattin Demirtas, the former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), called for the imprisonment of Ahmet Imamoglu, the opposition candidate who won the mayoral election.
An appeal court could prolong the case beyond the election date if she is sentenced or banned from politics.
Whether Turkish courts are bending to Erdogan’s will is a question for debate. The government insists that the judiciary is independent.
Timucin Koprulu, a criminal law professor at Atilim University in Ankara, told Reuters that the ruling would only be final after the higher court determined whether to uphold it or not. It would be inaccurate to state that the political ban was in place, he said.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici