A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced the popular opposition mayor of Istanbul to nearly three years in prison in a politically charged defamation trial that prevents him from running in June’s presidential election.
Ekrem Imamoglu ‘s team immediately vowed to appeal his conviction in a case stemming from a comment he made after defeating Turkey ‘s President’s ally Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a hugely controversial 2019 mayoral race.
People sentenced to less than four years are rarely imprisoned in Turkey.
But his conviction for “insulting a public official” disqualifies the 52-year-old mayor – one of the brightest stars in Turkey’s main secular party – from politics for the duration of his sentence.
Imamoglu will continue to lead Turkey’s largest and most legendary city while his appeal continues in court.
“Hundreds of Imamoglu supporters chanted outside the mayor’s office moments after the verdict was read: ‘Resign the government!’
“Imamoglu means freedom to me,” Firdevs Gulmez , an Istanbul housewife, explained as the crowd numbered in the thousands.
“We love you. We did not expect such a punishment”, confessed this 55-year-old woman.Supporters of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), gather at a rally to show their support for the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu.
Imamoglu seized the moment to board a bus and address his supporters through a megaphone amid huge cheers and waves of anti-government chants.
“What has happened here can happen to anyone,” he warned. “We will make those who condemned us regret what they did through the ballot box.”
The trial centered on an off-the-cuff comment Imamoglu made to reporters a few months after defeating Erdogan’s ally in a replay of the election held after his first victory was annulled.
Authorities reported the discovery of hundreds of thousands of “suspicious votes” after Erdogan refused to acknowledge Imamoglu’s initial victory in a city he himself ran before entering national politics two decades ago.
The decision backfired on Erdogan’s Islamist party.
Waves of protest and a surge of support from all political sectors gave Imamoglu a landslide victory in a new vote in June.
A few months later, Imamoglu let his frustration over the whole episode show through by calling those who overturned the first result “idiots” .
An Istanbul court sentenced Imamoglu to two years and seven and a half months in prison for defamation.
He also applied another clause of the penal code that prohibits the mayor from doing politics.
Imamoglu’s pending disqualification comes as Turkish opposition parties continue to bicker over who should face Erdogan in the upcoming presidential election.
The Istanbul mayor is one of the few opposition leaders who, according to polls, could beat Erdogan head-to-head.
The director of the Turkish research foundation MetroPoll, Ozer Sencar , explained that the sentence threatened to harm Erdogan by becoming a rallying cry for the opposition during the election campaign.
This event can turn into a great opportunity for the opposition if they can take advantage of it…
Erdogan’s dominance in Turkish politics has been rocked by an economic crisis made worse by his unconventional approach to interest rates.
But more recent polls show Erdogan ‘s popularity ratings starting to pick up thanks to his widely praised handling of Russia ‘s invasion of Ukraine.
This puts even more pressure on the opposition to put aside their personal rivalries in the electoral campaign.
Imamoglu’s CHP party is led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu , a former leftist civil servant who often fares poorly in opinion polls.
The CHP has held talks with five smaller allies over a single candidate who would not split the anti-Erdogan vote.
Those talks have been mired in arguments about politics and a general unease about presenting Kilicdaroglu instead of someone with a better chance of defeating Erdogan.
Imamoglu seemed to sense a guilty verdict looming when he told reporters this week that Kilicdaroglu was the only candidate who could represent the CHP.
Kilicdaroglu directly blamed Erdogan for the verdict.
“We see how the law is being slaughtered, how the state has surrendered to the will of a person, how justice has been corrupted, how revenge is being carried out ,” Kilicdaroglu said in a video message recorded during a trip. on business to Berlin.
“But don’t worry. We will defend justice to the end, ”she assured before boarding an urgent flight back to Istanbul.