Prison sentence, political ban for İstanbul mayor sparks int’l condemnation

A prison sentence and a political ban imposed on İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu in a politically charged trial has sparked international condemnation, Turkish Minute reported.

An İstanbul court on Wednesday sentenced İmamoğlu, of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a key opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to two years, seven months 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.

The sentence drew harsh criticism from high-level officials in Europe and the US, including the mayors of major European cities, who expressed solidarity with İmamoğlu.

“The Turkish regime’s sentencing of opposition leader @ekrem_imamoglu demonstrates Turkey’s continued descent toward autocracy. Free elections are the lifeblood of democracy. Erdogan cannot bar his political opponents from office & at the same time pretend to share our values,” US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez tweeted on Thursday.

“This unjust sentence is inconsistent with respect for human rights, with respect to fundamental freedoms and the rule of law,” US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told Reuters

“We remain gravely concerned by the continued indictment of civil society, media, political and business leaders in Turkey, and their prolonged pretrial detention,” he said

“Today’s verdict against #EkremImamoglu is a heavy blow to democracy, which requires controversial political debate. Particularly in times of an election, freedom of speech is the most important hallmark of a fair contest,” the German Foreign Ministry said. 

“Jailing political opponents and barring them from politics is unacceptable and disgraceful. It is further proof of #Turkey sliding into autocracy. Turkish people deserve better. They deserve to be heard. They deserve free and fair elections. We stand in support of @imamoglu_int,” the European People’s Party’s (EPP) Twitter handle posted.

The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament also expressed solidarity with the İstanbul mayor over the verdict. 

“Full solidarity with comrade @ekrem_imamoglu who had to win elections twice to become #Istanbul Mayor as govt wouldn’t accept results. Now a sham trial convicts him to 2 yrs in prison and political ban. Turkey’s govt spares no effort to eliminate leading political opponents,” S&D said.

İmamoğlu ended the years-long Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule in İstanbul when he defeated the AKP’s mayoral candidate twice in the local elections of 2019. He won the rerun election by a larger margin than the first, which had been cancelled due to supposed irregularities.

Human rights organizations also condemned the verdict, expressing concern about the impact of the development on the 2023 elections.

“The conviction of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and the ban on him holding elected political office imposed on the basis of a comment to the media should be seen for the violation of rights that it is and as an unjustified and politically calculated assault on Turkey’s political opposition in the run up to 2023 elections,” Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

The verdict against Ekrem İmamoğlu 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,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.

“We condemn today’s court decision out of Turkey to sentence @ekrem_imamoglu, the mayor of Istanbul, to almost three years in prison and ban him from politics on bogus charges. He was accused of insulting members of the Supreme Election Council,” Freedom House tweeted.

Mayors in Europe stand with İmamoğlu

In addition to Western governments and European officials, İmamoğlu was supported by the Mayors of Eurocities, an association of European mayoralties that represents Florence, Warsaw, Barcelona, Leipzig, Ghent, Braga, Tallinn, Nantes, Oslo, Rotterdam, Stockholm and Vienna.

According to Eurocities, the conduct of his trial has been nothing more than “a politically motivated attack on a member of the opposition.”

“The decision taken in Turkish courts to persecute a political opponent of the incumbent president represents a sham of democracy, and risks setting Turkey back years in terms of good governance,” the Eurocities Executive Committee added.

“I stand in solidarity with @imamoglu_int Mayor of Istanbul sentenced for prison and a political ban for insulting public officials. The international community cannot leave this attack against democracy unnoticed. I manifest my strong support to @ekrem_imamoglu,” Rome Mayor Roberto Gualtieri tweeted.

İmamoğlu stood trial due to remarks he made at a news conference in November 2019 regarding the cancellation of the municipal election in İstanbul held on March 31, 2019 in which he won against his opponent. He also won a repeat election held two months later.

At the news conference İmamoğlu criticized the YSK, which decided to cancel the İstanbul election, citing irregularities. He said at the time that the people who canceled 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.

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 had used the same word against him.

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