Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu
By City Mayors

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Turkish court sentences
Istanbul mayor to prison

December 2022: In a political trial, Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu was sentenced to prison and banned from politics for a period of two years and seven months. The prosecution accused the popular mayor, who is seen as the strongest possible challenger to Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan in next year's presidential elections, of insulting election officials after they overturned his narrow victory in mayoral elections in 2019.

In a re-run, three months later, Ekrem Imamoglu defeated Erdogan’s handpicked candidate for Istanbul mayor by several hundred thousand votes.

The judges’ verdict must be confirmed by a higher court. During the appeal process, which may take months to conclude, the mayor will continue to carry out his duties.

In front of thousands of supporters, Mayor Imamoglu called the verdict a great injustice and an affront to democracy. “Those running Turkey today are not interested in justice and democracy,” the mayor said without explicitly naming the Turkish president.

Ankara’s Mayor Mansur Yavas called the verdict unlawful. On Twitter he wrote justice is not served when political pressure is put upon Turkish courts. “The decision taken today is independent of justice and law. We do not accept that any political interest should prevail over the will of our people.”

The mayors of Istanbul and Ankara belong to Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and are both believed to be contenders for their party’s presidential candidate next year. Should the appeal courts confirm the jail sentence and political ban, Ankara mayor Yavas would be the most likely opposition candidate to challenge President Erdogan. Until now, unlike Imamogly, Yavas has stayed out of national politics and thus avoided the wrath of the Erdogan administration and government supported media.

A spokesman for the US State Department called the verdict on Istanbul’s mayor troublesome. “This unjust sentence is inconsistent with respect for human rights, with respect to fundamental freedoms and rule of law." The European Parliament rapporteur on Turkey expressed disbelief at the verdict. "Justice in Turkey is in a calamitous state, grossly used for political purposes.”

Turkish prosecutor calls for political
ban for President Erdogan's rival

November 2022: Istanbul’s popular mayor and a possible candidate in next year’s Turkish presidential election has been put on trial and threatened with a lengthy prison sentence as well as a ban from politics.

Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was elected to lead Turkey’s largest city in March 2019. His win was a historic blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which had controlled Istanbul for a quarter-century. The ruling party pushed to void the municipal election results in the city of 16 million, alleging irregularities. The challenge resulted in a repeat of the election a few months later, which Imamoglu won with an increased majority.

A prosecutor called for the mayor to be convicted on charges of insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council, during the trial which critics say is an attempt to remove a prominent opponent of the Turkish President from the political scene. The mayor’s trial is based on accusations that he insulted members of the electoral council when he described the cancelling of legitimate elections as “foolishness”.

The mayor denies insulting members of the council, insisting his words were a response to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu calling him “a fool” and accusing Imamoglu of criticising Turkey during a visit to the European Parliament.  A reporter, who testified as a defence witness, told the court that Mayor Imamoglu made the statement after she asked him to respond to Soylu calling him “a fool”. A request for the court to hear two further defence witnesses was rejected.

Before the trial began, the roads leading to the court building were cordoned off and a district-wide protest ban was imposed. More than 1,000 people gathered in a square outside the district to support Imamoglu. The crowd held up his party's banners and chanted "you'll never walk alone".

Government critics regard the trial as an attempt to prevent the popular mayor from running against President Erdogan in presidential and parliamentary elections currently scheduled for June 2023.

If convicted, Imamoglu could lose his post as mayor and be replaced by someone close to Erdogan's ruling party.

In 2020, the Turkish authorities detained a number of popularly elected mayors in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast, which part of a campaign against the Kurdish-friendly People's Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest party in the Turkish parliament. At the time, the arrests raised the number of HDP mayors in prison to at least 21. The government appointed administrators to 45 of a total of 65 municipalities won by the HDP in 2019.

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