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14 Dec, 2022 21:52

Erdogan rival convicted over ‘insulting’ speech

The mayor of Istanbul says the verdict is an attack on popular will
Erdogan rival convicted over ‘insulting’ speech

A Turkish court has convicted Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu of insulting a public official, sentencing him on Wednesday to two years and seven months in prison. Imamoglu has also been barred from holding public office, which critics say is an attempt to derail his challenge to Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in next year’s election.

Imamoglu’s crime, according to the court, was that he called the officials who canceled the March 2019 mayoral election “fools,” after his victory ended the 25-year ruling streak by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). He went on to win the repeat election in June and cancel millions of liras in public funding to pro-government foundations.

“Today's verdict is an attack on the will of millions of Istanbulites who democratically elected a mayor for their city three years ago,” Imamoglu declared on his English-language Twitter account. He ignored the court proceedings, addressing a crowd of supporters at city hall on Wednesday evening and announcing a protest rally for Thursday.

The mayor told his supporters that the verdict was a sign of “profound unlawfulness” that “proved that there is no justice in today’s Türkiye.” The Turkish nation is “thirsty for justice,” and voters will respond to this at the polls next June, Imamoglu added.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Imamoglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), said he was returning early from a visit to Germany in response to the verdict, which he described as a “grave violation of the law and justice.”

The verdict does not take effect until it is confirmed by an appeals court, but the legal process could take months. If ratified, Imamoglu would be out of the running to be the opposition’s joint candidate against Erdogan, whose party has run Türkiye for over 20 years. 

While opposition activists argue the verdict was a political ploy to take Imamoglu out of the race, the government in Ankara insists the judiciary is independent. Erdogan himself began his political career as mayor of Istanbul. He also spent time in jail – in 1999, for reciting a poem that a court ruled incited religious hatred.