Turkish court sentences Erdogan opponent to jail with political ban

Turkish court sentences Erdogan opponent to jail with political ban
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  • Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor sentenced to 2 years and 7 months in prison
  • İmamoğlu was accused of insulting public officials in his speech.
  • Seen as a strong potential contender in the 2023 election
  • Fans chanted in front of the town hall

ISTANBUL, December 14 (Reuters) – A Turkish court sentenced Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu to prison on Wednesday and imposed a political ban on an opposition politician seen as a strong rival to President Tayyip Erdogan in next year’s elections.

Imamoglu was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison with a ban for insulting public officials in a speech he made after he won the Istanbul municipal elections in 2019.

Riot police were deployed in front of the courthouse on the Anatolian side of the city with a population of 17 million, but İmamoğlu continued to work as usual and refused court proceedings.

At the city hall opposite the Bosphorus on Istanbul’s European side, he told thousands of his supporters that the decision was a “deep lawlessness” that “proved that there is no justice in today’s Turkey”.

The official said voters will respond to the presidential and parliamentary elections, scheduled for next June.

The vote could be the biggest political challenge yet for Erdogan, who seeks to extend his rule for a third decade in the face of a collapsing currency and rampant inflation that is raising the Turkish cost of living more than ever before.

A six-party opposition alliance has yet to agree on its presidential candidate, and Imamoglu is discussed as a possible contender to run against Erdogan.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of İmamoğlu’s opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said he would cut short his visit to Germany and return to Turkey in response to what he described as a “grave violation of law and justice”.

Vedant Patel, deputy spokesperson for the US Department of State, said the US State Department was “deeply disturbed and disappointed” by this decision. “This unjust punishment is against respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”


Nacho Sanchez Amor, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, stated that he did not believe the “unbelievable” decision.

“Justice is in a dire state in #Turkey, it is being used roughly for political purposes. It is a very sad day.”

Imamoglu was prosecuted for saying in a speech after the Istanbul elections that those who canceled the first vote, in which Erdogan narrowly defeated the AK Party candidate, were “stupid”. İmamoğlu said that this statement was a response to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu’s use of the same language against him.

After the initial results were annulled, he easily won the re-voted, ending 25 years of rule by the AKP and its Islamist predecessors in Turkey’s largest city.

The outcome of next year’s elections is seen as dependent on the ability of the CHP and other opponents to join forces around a single candidate to challenge Erdogan and the AKP, who have ruled Turkey since 2002.

Erdogan, who also served as mayor of Istanbul before dominating Turkish national politics, was briefly jailed in 1999 for reciting a poem, which the court ruled incited religious hatred.

Selahattin Demirtaş, the imprisoned former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), shared on his Twitter account that İmamoğlu should be put in the prison where Erdoğan is being held, and that he can eventually follow the path to the presidency.

A prison sentence or political ban on Imamoglu would need to be upheld in appeals courts, potentially extending the outcome of the case beyond the election date.

Critics say Turkish courts are bowing to Erdogan’s will. The government says the judiciary is independent.

Timuçin Köprülü, Professor of Criminal Law at Atılım University, said, “The decision will only become final after the high court’s approval decision. Under these circumstances, it would be wrong to say that the political ban is in effect.” Ankara told Reuters after the decision.

Additional reports by Ece Toksabay and Hüseyin Hayatsever in Ankara, Hümeyra Pamuk in Washington and Daren Butler in Istanbul; Written by Daren Butler and Dominic Evans; Editing: Gareth Jones, William Maclean

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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