Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has broken his silence on a prison sentence and political ban imposed on İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu in a politically charged trial, saying the verdict is not final and that it was a criminal procedure prompted by an insult uttered by İmamoğlu.
An İstanbul court on Wednesday sentenced İmamoğlu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a key opponent of 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.
On Thursday a Turkish prosecutor appealed the conviction, arguing that a prison sentence of almost three years and a political ban are not enough punishment for insulting public officials.
High-level officials in Europe and the US, including the mayors of major European cities, harshly criticized the verdict and expressed solidarity with İmamoğlu.
“This is about a person who gets banned from politics for insulting [election officials],” Erdoğan said, referring to İmamoğlu.
“According to our constitution, judges perform their duties independently. It’s not me saying that, the constitution says it. We don’t have to approve of every verdict. There were many court decisions that we criticized, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to defy court decisions,” he added.
Considering that the verdict could see İmamoğlu ousted from office and prevented from running in the 2023 elections, opposition parties argue that the mayor’s prosecution and trial were an attempt to eliminate a key opponent to Erdoğan, under whose increasingly authoritarian rule they question the independence of the judiciary.
If the verdict is upheld by the top court after İmamoğlu is certified as a presidential candidate, he would still be able to run for president; however, his win would not be certified and there would be a rerun election, YSK chairman Muharrem Akkaya told the Habertürk news website.
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 canceled due to supposed irregularities.
The İstanbul mayor was tried for a speech in which he said those who annulled the initial 2019 vote were “fools.” 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.