ISTANBUL (AP) — A court in Turkey on Wednesday sentenced the mayor of Istanbul, the country’s most populous city, to two years and seven months in prison on charges of insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council.
The court convicted Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and also imposed a political ban that could lead to his resignation. Imamoglu, which belongs to the main opposition Republican People’s Party, is expected to appeal the ruling.
Critics claimed the mayor’s trial was an attempt to eliminate a key opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey is expected to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in June. Polls point to a drop in Erdogan’s popularity scores amid economic turmoil and inflation at over 84%.
Imamoglu was chosen to lead Istanbul in March 2019. His victory was a historic blow to Erdogan and the president’s Justice and Development Party, which ruled Istanbul for a quarter of a century. The party pushed for the results of municipal elections in the city of 16 million to be invalidated over alleged irregularities.
The challenge resulted in a rerun of the election a few months later, which Imamoglu also won.
Imamoglu was accused of insulting senior government officials after he described canceling legal elections on November 4, 2019 as an act of “foolishness”.
The mayor denied insulting members of the electoral council and insisted his words were in response to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu calling him “a fool” and accusing Imamoglu of criticizing Turkey during a visit to the European Parliament.
Thousands gathered in front of the municipal building to denounce the verdict against the popular mayor, chanting “Rights, Law, Justice!” and calling on the government and Erdogan to resign.
Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu interrupts a visit to Germany to return to Turkey and support Imamoglu.
“No (party member) will admit to bullying or step back,” Kilicdaroglu said in a video message before leaving Berlin. “We promised to bring the country out of this darkness.”
Earlier in the trial, the court heard testimony from Imamoglu’s press officer, Murat Ongun and another aide, who confirmed that the mayor’s words were in response to Soylu.
“Either before or after this event, or even on May 6 (2019) when the elections were called off, I have not heard any negative words from Ekrem Imamoglu about the members of the (Supreme Electoral Council),” T24 news website Ongun was quoted as saying. . “All his statements were directed against political figures.”
But in a video posted to social media, Soylu stressed that the mayor’s comments were directed at members of the electoral council, who had called off the election.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.