A Turkish court’s sentence of over two-and-a-half years in prison and a political ban on Istanbul’s popular opposition mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, has been denounced by state departments, political parties and human rights organisations in the West.
Ned Price, State Department spokesperson, said in a statement on Thursday that the US was deeply troubled and disappointed by the verdict against İmamoğlu, who was sentenced for insulting a public official during the highly controversial local elections in 2019 that he won twice.
“His conviction is inconsistent with respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. We remain gravely concerned by the continued judicial harassment of civil society, media, political and business leaders in Turkey, including through prolonged pretrial detention, overly broad claims of support for terrorism, and criminal insult cases,” the statement said.
The German Foreign Ministry defined the verdict against İmamoğlu, who faces the risk of a political ban if the verdict is approved by appeals higher courts, as “a huge blow to democracy” on Wednesday, and said, “Particularly in times of an election, freedom of speech is the most important hallmark of a fair contest,” referring to Turkey’s upcoming elections in 2023.
İmamoğlu has a huge support among opposition voters as one of the potential candidates of presidential elections and is seen as a rival that could beat the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at polls.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) argued that the court’s decision violates İmamoğlu’s rights to freedom of expression and political association and that it interferes with the right of millions of voters in Istanbul to elect their own mayor as their political representative.
“The conviction of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and the ban on him holding elected political office imposed on the basis of a comment to the media should be seen for the violation of rights that it is and as an unjustified and politically calculated assault on Turkey’s political opposition in the run up to 2023 elections,” HRW said.
Eurocities, an organisation that aims to strengthen cooperation between European cities, shared a solidarity message on Twitter and called the verdict “an unjust punishment.”
The Party of European Socialists, (PES), which holds 145 seats in the European Parliament, also shared a solidarity message and argued that this was yet another attack on democracy from Turkish President Erdoğan.
The European Parliament rapporteur on Turkey, Nacho Sanchez Amor, said after the announcement of the verdict: “Justice in Turkey is in a calamitous state, grossly used for political purposes. Very sad day.”