İmamoğlu has become ‘political hostage’ with recent conviction: EP Turkey rapporteur

European Parliament Standing Rapporteur for Turkey Nacho Sánchez Amor has said the recent conviction of İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu on insult charges has made him “a kind of political hostage,” Turkish Minute reported, citing local media.

Amor traveled to Ankara for a fact-finding mission on Dec. 19 and 20. The visit was scheduled as part of preparations for the upcoming annual report on Turkey and included a wide range of contacts with high-level officials in the government, members of parliament and think tanks as well as representatives of political parties and civil society.

The upcoming annual report on Turkey will be presented and discussed in 2023, with due respect to the pre-electoral phase the country is expected to be in. By established convention, progress reports on accession countries are not voted on close to elections.

‘Political hostage’

Amor, who held a press conference at the EU Delegation in Ankara to share his assessment of the mission before returning to Brussels, stated that aligning with the EU meant aligning with a certain model of society and that the model the Turkish government was offering was, conversely, “characterized by authoritarian rule and an absence of checks and balances.”

“… We are concerned about human rights and the rule of law. There is no progress in these areas. … The judiciary is unpredictable,” Amor said, adding that the recent conviction of İmamoğlu made him a kind of “political hostage.”

An İstanbul court last week sentenced İmamoğlu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a key opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to more than two years in prison and barred him from politics for allegedly insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK).

The sentence and the political ban must be upheld by an appeals court after a petition is filed.

“There is an expectation that a higher court will correct this situation, but there is [also] an assessment that this court decision is linked to the election,” Duvar quoted Amor as saying.

The İstanbul mayor was tried for publicly stating that the people who annulled the initial 2019 local election, when he won against the candidate of the ruling party, were “fools.” However, İmamoğlu said at his first hearing in January that his remarks, which were in response to a question from a reporter, were not aimed at YSK officials but at Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who in an earlier statement used the same word against him.

İmamoğlu won by a larger margin in a repeat election the same year when the first poll was annulled due to alleged irregularities.

Amor further explained that İmamoğlu’s statement should not have had any legal consequences, according to the standards of freedom of expression in Europe, where, he argued, one can use more offensive words towards a public official than he would, say, to a standard person.

The concern about the persistent gap between Turkey and the EU on values and standards was previously noted in the European Parliament’s 2021 annual report on Turkey in addition to the country’s continuing lack of political will to carry out the necessary reforms to address, in particular, the serious concerns about the rule of law and fundamental rights that continue to negatively affect the accession process.

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