Prison sentence, political ban imposed on CHP İstanbul chair spark outrage

Canan Kaftancıoğlu

A recent decision by Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals to uphold a political ban and prison sentence for the head of the İstanbul branch of the country’s main opposition party  has attracted condemnation and anger from opposition politicians as well as members of the country’s intelligentsia.

In 2019 Canan Kaftancıoğlu, 50, of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison on a range of charges including “terrorist propaganda” and insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which are mostly related to her tweets posted between 2012 and 2017.

The top court on Thursday upheld the conviction of Kaftancıoğlu, who had been free pending appeal, on three counts that carried a prison term of four years, 11 months and 20 days. She was also banned from politics in a move seen by many observers as intended to sideline her before the presidential and parliamentary elections of June 2023.

Immediately after the ruling, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on his lawmakers to head to the party’s İstanbul headquarters to welcome Kaftancıoğlu, who had traveled from the capital Ankara.

Among those who expressed support for Kaftancıoğlu on social media, condemning the top court’s decision, were a number of opposition party leaders and lawmakers, including many officials from the CHP, in addition to the country’s intelligentsia.

“The palace [Erdoğan] government cannot bear to lose İstanbul. This is the main reason [behind the top court decision]! The judiciary is under the control of the political power,” CHP Deputy Chairman Muharrem Erkek said in a tweet on Thursday.

Erkek was referring to Kaftancıoğlu’s key role in the shock victory of the CHP’s Istanbul mayoral candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu in 2019 — the first time Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had lost power in Turkey’s biggest city for 25 years.

Another CHP deputy chairman, Veli Ağbaba, said the decision to uphold Kaftancıoğlu’s jail sentence was aimed at intimidating all opposition parties based on an instruction by Erdoğan, adding that they’re not afraid and will continue fighting together to unseat the president in the upcoming elections.

“I strongly condemn this decision made to serve the AKP’s one-man regime and create a climate of fear. You won’t scare the opposition!” Bahadır Erdem, deputy chair of the nationalist opposition İYİ (Good) Party, an ally of the CHP, said.

Former prime minister and Future Party Chairman (GP) Ahmet Davutoğlu said the top court decision targeted “democratic politics,” while Temel Karamollaoğlu, leader of the Islamist opposition Felicity Party, described the decision as “unlawful,” vowing to “restore the judicial institution, which has become the focus of political decisions.”

“We’re experienced enough to know that the target of the sentence given to … Kaftancıoğlu is democratic politics. We’ll get rid of this injustice together,” Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) leader and former Turkish deputy prime minister Ali Babacan said.

“We’ll be by their [CHP’s] side against the attacks of the [Erdoğan], and we’ll continue to fight shoulder to shoulder,” tweeted Erkan Baş, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP).

Journalist Hayko Bağdat expressed support for Kaftancıoğlu saying, “I’m with Canan Kaftancıoğlu. Canan is the pride of this period. Bless her heart.”

Human rights activist and president of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı said the sentence and political ban on Kaftancıoğlu, along with other politically motivated decisions by Turkey’s judiciary, “make it necessary for us to be in even stronger solidarity for democracy, justice and freedoms.”

Meanwhile, AKP parliamentary group deputy chairman Bülent Turan defended the top court’s decision on social media, saying the AKP wanted to come to terms with political rivals within politics but that the judiciary had to decide on such crimes as insulting the state, insulting the president and insulting a public official. “Pull yourselves together!” he added, addressing the CHP officials.

The top court ruling comes on the heels of a life sentence handed by an İstanbul court to another Erdoğan critic and activist, Osman Kavala, last month.

A leading figure in Turkey’s civil society, the 64-year-old Kavala was accused of attempting to topple Erdoğan’s government by financing 2013 protests.

Rights groups and dissidents regularly accuse Erdoğan of using the judiciary as a political tool, particularly after thousands of judges were purged in the wake of an attempted coup in 2016.

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