An Istanbul court sentencing Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu to more than 2.5 years in prison over insulting a public official is a continuation of the pressure on opponents of the Turkish government, the Labour and Freedom Alliance said in a statement condemning the ruling.
İmamoğlu was elected in a landslide in 2019, twice, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan objected to the first count. His election ended 2.5 decades of conservative/Islamist rule in the megacity, with help from the Kurdish diaspora as well.
Earlier in the week, a case against the mayor concluded with İmamoğlu sentenced to 2 years 7 months and 15 days in prison over insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council. Because the sentence is over 2 years in prison, the mayor will automatically be banned from holding public office if the sentence is approved.
İmamoğlu is seen as one of the strongest candidates to represent the opposition in the 2023 presidential elections.
“This ruling is a continuation of the pressure put on political opposition, artists, journalists, intellectuals, unionists,” the alliance said.
All of the opposition in Turkey should have spoken out more when the government started to replace elected mayors in Kurdish-majority municipalities with appointed proxies, especially in districts and provinces where the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) won, the alliance added. “This ruling is a continuation of the stolen will of the people in the HDP municipalities, the lifting of parliamentary immunities, and the bans on strikes.”
“We said back then the proxy regime could take the whole country hostage, as the proxies spread from municipalities to universities. This ruling shows the level the regime’s bans have reached,” they said.
The HDP-led alliance, formed in response to the ruling and opposition election alliances in the country, said instead of the courts acting in line with the law, the government was working to “exact political revenge from a mayor who won the votes of millions of people”. The alliance called the ruling “political” and unlawful.
At a separate press conference, Izmir Bar Association President Sefa Yılmaz said “the heavy hand of the government on the judiciary” had emerged once again in the İmamoğlu case. “We will continue our fight for a secular democratic country under rule of law despite everything.”
Istanbul residents gathered on Thursday at the Saraçhane Square to protest the ruling.
“What do the rulers of this country have against you?” İmamoğlu asked the public as he gave a speech at the impromptu rally, accusing the government of trying to steal his seat given to him by millions of people and of being “allergic to the people’s decisions”.