Turkish court sentences Erdogan rival to jail with political ban

  • Istanbul mayor handed 2-year 7-month jail sentence
  • Imamoglu accused of insulting public officials in speech
  • He is seen as strong possible contender in 2023 elections
  • Supporters chant slogans outside municipality HQ

A Turkish court sentenced Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu to jail on Wednesday and imposed a political ban on the opposition politician who is seen as a strong potential challenger to President Tayyip Erdogan in elections next year.

Imamoglu was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison along with the ban, both of which must be confirmed by an appeals court, for insulting public officials in a speech he made after he won Istanbul’s municipal election in 2019.

Imamoğlu, Istanbul’s mayor from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was accused of insulting 11 members of Turkey’s High Election Board (YSK) while talking about the board’s decision to annul and rerun the March 31, 2019 Istanbul mayoral election.

The YSK did not recognize Imamoğlu’s initial victory in the 2019 local elections and ordered a repeat vote in which İmamoğlu won again with a larger difference against his opponent AKP’s Binali Yıldırım.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Nov. 4, 2019 said that “The idiot who went to the European Parliament and complained about Turkey. This nation will make you pay for this,” referring to İImamoğlu.

In response, Imamoğlu said that “Those who cancel the election on March 31 are idiots.”

Imamoğlu was tried for the alleged charge of “publicly insulting public officials working as a board due to their duties.” He rejected the claims, saying that his remark was against Soylu, not YSK members.

In addition to the prison sentence, the court ruled to apply the Article 53 of Turkish Penal Code which includes “deprivation of the exercise of certain rights,” meaning that a political ban will be imposed on İmamoğlu.

If the decision is finalized in the higher courts, then İmamoğlu will have to resign from the mayorship of Istanbul. Due to the majority of the ruling AKP members in the municipal assembly, the next mayor would be selected from the AKP. Moreover, İmamoğlu will not be allowed to run for an office.

Imamoglu is expected to appeal against the sentence and will continue in post, but the possibility he may be disqualified from standing in the presidential election. versus President Erdogan.

Before the court’s decision, İmamoğlu called every Istanbulites to come to the municipality building to support him.

“Whatever the decision will be, I invite everyone to Saraçhane at 4 p.m. to show our joy and our will,” he said in a tweet.

Imamoğlu is one of the figures targeted frequently by Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ever since his decisive victory in the Istanbul elections in 2019. Infuriated by losing Turkey’s largest city to the main opposition, the AKP has been making İmamoğlu face investigations on bogus charges.

Despite these attempts, İmamoğlu’s job approval rate has been increasing while the AKP’s votes have melted in Istanbul, according to various polls.

Duvar English, Reuters