İstanbul mayor gets prison sentence, political ban in insult trial verdict

A Turkish court on Wednesday handed down a prison sentence of more than two years as well as imposing a political ban on İstanbul’s popular mayor in a politically charged trial, Agence France-Presse reported.

Prosecutors sought a sentence for Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), of between 15 months and four years in prison for a remark he made after defeating President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ally in a controversial 2019 mayoral election.

İmamoğlu was given a prison sentence of two years, seven months and 15 days under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and a political ban under Article 53 of the TCK.

If the court’s verdict is upheld, İmamoğlu, a potential presidential candidate running against Erdoğan in the 2023 general election, will no longer be able to serve as the mayor of İstanbul and won’t be able to compete in elections.

The mayor’s team immediately vowed to appeal the conviction.

People who are sentenced to less than four years are rarely put behind bars in Turkey.

“This is a pathetic approach to democracy and the rule of law,” İmamoglu’s lawyer, Kemal Polat, told AFP.

Before the court announced its decision, İmamoğlu called on all İstanbulites to gather in Saraçhane, where the municipal office is located, to show their support for him.

The mayor’s team views the trial as Erdoğan’s personal vendetta against one of his biggest rivals.

“Despite everything, I want to trust the judges, the prosecutors and the decision makers,” he said on the eve of Wednesday’s third hearing in the trial.

The case stems from an offhand remark İmamoğlu made to reporters a few months after defeating Erdoğan’s ally in a re-run election held after his first victory was annulled. Officials reported discovering hundreds of thousands of “suspicious votes” after Erdoğan refused to acknowledge İmamoğlu’s initial win in a city that he himself ran before entering national politics two decades ago.

İmamoğlu stood trial due to remarks he made at a news conference in November 2019 regarding the cancellation of the municipal vote in İstanbul held on March 31, 2019 in which he won against the mayoral candidate of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). İmamoğlu also won a repeat election held two months later by increasing his support.

At the news conference İmamoğlu criticized the Supreme Election Board (YSK), which decided to cancel the İstanbul poll, citing irregularities. He said at the time that the people who cancelled the March 31 election in İstanbul were “fools” because they had tarnished Turkey’s international image.

The İstanbul mayor was indicted in May 2021 due to his statements about YSK officials on accusations that his remarks were an insult to their honor, dignity and prestige.

The indictment, drafted by the Anadolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, accused İmamoğlu of insulting 10 YSK officials including then-YSK chairman Sadi Güven.

However, İmamoğlu said at the first hearing in January that his remarks, which were in response to a question from a reporter, were not aimed at the YSK officials but at Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who in an earlier statement used the same word against him.

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