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Defiant İstanbul mayor says his conviction is reward for his success

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İstanbul’s popular mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, has said a prison sentence and political ban handed down at the end of a controversial trial on Wednesday came as a result of his success and that he sees them as a reward, Turkish media reported.

An İstanbul court on Wednesday sentenced İmamoğlu, of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a key opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to two years, seven months in prison and barred him from politics for allegedly insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK).

The sentence and the political ban must be upheld by an appeals court after a petition is filed.

“No success goes unpunished in our country. I see the meaningless and unlawful conviction as the reward for my success. I know they were angered by the end of their rule of extravagance,” İmamoğlu said on Thursday at a ground-breaking ceremony in İstanbul, also attended by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

İmamoğlu ended the years-long Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule in İstanbul when he defeated the AKP’s mayoral candidate twice in the local elections of 2019. He won the rerun election by a larger margin than the first, which had been cancelled due to supposed irregularities.

Before the court announced its decision on Wednesday, İmamoğlu called on all İstanbulites to gather in Saraçhane, where the municipal office is located, to show their support for him.

Speaking to a large crowd of supporters outside the municipal building after the announcement of the verdict, İmamoğlu said the court’s decision was politically motivated and unlawful.

“This court, this trial is proof that there is no justice left in Turkey,” he said, adding that the verdict was the result of a corrupt order that has existed under Erdoğan’s AKP government.

İmamoğlu said the case against him was filed on false justification and undermined the law.

He further said, referring to the 2019 mayoral vote where he defeated Erdoğan’s ally, that his supporters “threw a big slap of democracy” back then with his re-election and would also make those who tried to put him behind bars regret it at the ballot box in the 2023 elections.

Thousands of his supporters, who gathered to denounce the ruling against him, shouted slogans like, “Rights, law, justice!” and called on Erdoğan and his government to resign.

Kılıçdaroğlu cut short a visit to Germany to return to Turkey and support the popular mayor.

“No [party member] will yield to bullying or take a step back,” the CHP leader said in a video message before leaving Berlin.

Nationalist opposition İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener, an ally of Kılıçdaroğlu, also went to Saraçhane and expressed her support for İmamoğlu.

“When people are afraid, they tyrannize [others] and inflict injustices. There is a great fear behind this decision made for my brother Ekrem today. … You will do what is necessary at the ballot box,” Akşener told the crowd, referring to Erdoğan’s government.

The mayor’s case stems from an offhand remark he made to reporters a few months after defeating the AKP’s mayoral candidate in a re-run election held after his first victory was annulled. Officials reported discovering hundreds of thousands of “suspicious votes” after Erdoğan refused to acknowledge İmamoğlu’s initial win in a city that he himself ran before entering national politics two decades ago.

İmamoğlu stood trial due to remarks he made at a news conference in November 2019 regarding the cancellation of the municipal vote in İstanbul held on March 31, 2019 in which he won against his opponent. He also won a repeat election held two months later by increasing his support.

At the news conference İmamoğlu criticized the YSK, which decided to cancel the İstanbul election, citing irregularities. He said at the time that the people who canceled the March 31 election in İstanbul were “fools” because they had tarnished Turkey’s international image.

The İstanbul mayor was indicted in May 2021 due to his statements about YSK officials on accusations that his remarks were an insult to their honor, dignity and prestige.

However, İmamoğlu said at the first hearing in January that his remarks, which were in response to a question from a reporter, were not aimed at the YSK officials but at Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who in an earlier statement used the same word against him.

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