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Istanbul opposition mayor banned from politics over ‘insult’ to government officials

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) – A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced the popular opposition mayor of Istanbul to nearly three years in prison in a politically charged defamation trial.

Ekrem Imamoglu’s team will immediately end his conviction in a case stemming from statements he made after defeating allies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the highly controversial 2019 mayoral elections. He vowed to appeal.

In Turkey, people sentenced to less than four years rarely go to prison.

But his conviction of “insulting a public official” will strip the 52-year-old mayor — one of Turkey’s main secular parties’ brightest stars — from politics for the duration of the sentence.

Imamoglu will continue to command Turkey’s largest and most legendary city while the appeal goes through court.

“Resign the government!” hundreds of Imogul supporters chanted outside the mayor’s office shortly after the verdict was read out.

“Imamoglu means freedom to me,” said Istanbul housewife Firdevs Gulmez as the crowd grew to thousands.

“We love him. We didn’t expect to be punished like that,” said the 55-year-old.

Imamoglu seized the moment by climbing atop the bus and addressing waves of loud cheers and anti-government chants to his supporters through megaphones.

“What happened here could happen to anyone,” he warned. “We will make those who criticized us through the ballot box regret what they have done.”

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu (C_L) addresses supporters in a bus during a protest in front of Istanbul Municipality, Istanbul, December 14, 2022. (Yasin AKGUL/AFP)

The trial focused on outspoken remarks Imamoglu made to reporters months after defeating Erdogan’s allies in re-elections held after his initial victory was annulled.

Authorities say they have found hundreds of thousands of “suspicious votes” after President Erdogan refused to recognize Imamoglu’s first victory in a city he himself ran before entering state affairs 20 years ago. reported.

The decision backfired badly for Erdogan’s Islam-rooted political party.

A wave of protests and a surge of support from all political corners gave Imamoglu a resounding victory in a rerun vote that June.

Immoglu called those who invalidated the initial results “idiots” and made them vent their frustration over the entire episode months later.

An Istanbul court sentenced Imamoglu to two years, seven and a half months in prison for defamation.

It also applied another provision of the Penal Code prohibiting the mayor from political activity.

Imogul’s pending disqualification comes as Turkish opposition parties are still debating who should oppose Erdogan in the looming presidential election.

Polls show the mayor of Istanbul is one of the few opposition leaders who could defeat Erdogan in a head-to-head confrontation.

Ozer Sencar, head of Turkey’s MetroPoll research foundation, said the ruling could turn into an opposition cry during the election campaign and hurt President Erdogan.

“This event could be a golden opportunity if the opposition can take advantage of it,” Senkar said in a tweet.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference as a bystander of the G20 summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, on November 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)


Erdogan’s dominance in Turkish politics has been shaken by an economic crisis exacerbated by his unconventional approach to interest rates.

But recent polls show that Erdogan’s reputation is starting to recover, thanks to his widely praised handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This puts further pressure on the opposition to set aside personal rivalries in the election campaign.

Imamoglu’s CHP party is led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu — a left-wing former civil servant who generally performs poorly in the polls.

The CHP is holding roundtable discussions with five smaller allies on one candidate who will not split the anti-Erdogan vote.

These talks have been plagued by debates over policy and general misgivings about defending Kirikda Rogul in place of someone who would likely defeat Erdogan.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kirikdalogl speaks to the media outside the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) in Ankara, Turkey, December 3, 2021. (Burhan Ozblici/AP)

Imamoglu appeared to feel a conviction when he told reporters this week that the only candidate who could represent the CHP was Kilicdaroglu.

Kilicdaroglu blamed the verdict squarely on Erdogan.

In a video message recorded during a business trip to Berlin, Kirikdaroglu said, “How the law is being slaughtered, how the state is yielding to the will of one man, how justice is corrupting. We’re watching whether they’re doing it and how the revenge is being carried out.”

“But don’t worry, we will do justice to the end,” he said before boarding an urgent flight back to Istanbul.

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