Ekrem İmamoğlu, the opposition mayor of Turkey’s megacity Istanbul, was sentenced to more than 2.5 years in prison over insulting a public official, Mezopotamya Agency reported.
Because the sentence total, 2 years 7 months and 15 days in prison, exceeds the legal limit, Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) popular mayor will also be banned from holding public office.
The crime İmamoğlu was convicted for carries a sentence of up to two years in prison. A previous judge, Hüseyin Zengin, had told reporters that he had been asked to issue a longer sentence in the same case, and was transferred away from his post when he refused.
“I was urged to make İmamoğlu into a banned politician by sentencing him to more than two years in prison. I looked into previous sentences on the same crime. In my conscience, I saw that such a sentence would be unjust. I ruled it would be best to issue a sentence from the minimum limit, and withhold the announcement. I told a few people about it. One person who was informed of the situation and who runs the court house spoke with the government and got me transferred away,” journalist Barış Terkoğlu cited Zengin as saying.
“You will not intimidate people who love their country with absolutely unacceptable, unlawful rulings. We will continue to resist and fight to build a legal order under which every person can feel safe again,” İmamoğlu’s wife Dilek Kaya İmamoğlu said.
“The court has determined our potential rival,” ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Central Committee Member Şamil Tayyar said, referencing the upcoming June 2023 elections in which İmamoğlu stood out as a strong candidate to run under the united opposition.
After some time as mayor of an Istanbul district, İmamoğlu ran for mayor in the megacity in 2019. He won the election, defeating AKP’s Binali Yıldırım by as low as 13,000 votes. When the AKP pushed a re-run, he won in a landslide of 806,000 extra votes. The second victory is attributed to the 16 million strong city’s large Kurdish diaspora population.
Due to his popularity among CHP voters, sympathetic stance towards Kurds, and ability to attract young and conservative voters, İmamoğlu was seen as a strong contender for the six-way opposition alliance’s joint candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for June 2023. If the appeals court approves his sentence, he will not be able to run.
“This is a political ruling, not a legal one,” pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chair Pervin Buldan said.
“I wish this had been a legal case. That there could be a judicial process in front of justice. This is the case of a broken order,” İmamoğlu said in an impromptu rally he held in Istanbul’s Saraçhane.