Istanbul protesters condemn ‘political’ verdict against mayor
Crowds in Istanbul are demanding a reversal in a court verdict that could ban the mayor of Turkey’s most populous city from holding office and running in next year’s presidential election.
The US and EU have both criticised the verdict.
On Wednesday Ekrem Imamoglu was convicted by an Istanbul court for insulting members of the Supreme Electoral Council. He was sentenced to 2½ years in prison and banned from running in another election.
The 52-year-old did not attend any trial hearings or the sentencing.
Imamoglu in a speech said those who annulled an initial vote held three months before the 2019 mayoral election in which he narrowly defeated the populist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s chosen candidate were “fools”.
He said his use of “fools” was in response to interior minister Suleyman Soylu who used the same word about him.
The opposition claims it was a political decision made by a legal system dominated by Erdogan saying Imamoglu was positioned as a key electoral rival.
His 2019 victory represented one of the biggest losses for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) since it came to power in 2002.
The mayor says he will appeal and he is expected to remain in office while the case is reviewed by a higher court.
Erdogan is due to seek another five-year presidential term in next June’s election.
Polling suggests Imamoglu is among a handful of opposition leaders who could beat Erdogan in a presidential election.
A six-opposition party coalition, which includes Imamoglu’s center-left Republican People’s Party, has not yet nominated a candidate. Erdogan’s popularity has slumped because of years of rampant inflation and sluggish economic progress.
Leaders or representatives of the six parties took part in the Istanbul protests this week.
In January a court is due to rule on banning the majority-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) from politics.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) labelled the verdict a violation of the mayor’s rights and an “unjustified and politically calculated assault on Turkey’s political opposition” ahead of the 2023 election.
“The verdict against Ekrem Imamoglu is a travesty of justice and an attack on the democratic process, demonstrating that as the 2023 elections approach, the government is prepared to misuse courts to sideline or silence key opposition figures,” HRW’s deputy program director Tom Porteous said.
Ekrem Imamoglu. Picture credit: YouTube