Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu sentenced to prison for “insulting Turkish officials”

A Turkish court sentenced Mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu to two years and seven months in prison on Wednesday for “insulting elected officials”.

In addition to the conviction, the court banned him from politics, a decision that may force him from office. Imamoglu, a member of main opposition Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP), is anticipated to challenge the judgment.

According to critics, the primary motive for the mayor’s trial is to get rid of a significant opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Both the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey are slated for June. According to polls, Erdogan’s popularity is declining amidst the economic crisis and an inflation rate of more than 84%.

Imamoglu won the March 2019 election to become Istanbul’s mayor. His victory dealt a historic blow to Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) which had governed Istanbul for 25 years. The 16 million-person city’s municipal election results were challenged by the AKP claiming “irregularities”.

The challenge resulted in a new election a few months later, which Imamoglu again won.

On 4 November 2019, Imamoglu was charged with insulting senior public officials after he reportedly said that calling off legal elections was an act of “foolishness”.

He insisted that his statements were a response to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu labeling him “an idiot” and accused Imamoglu of disparaging Turkey during a visit to the European Parliament. Imamoglu denied insulting the members of the electoral council.

Following the announcement of the verdict, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu returned to Turkey early from a trip to Germany to support Imamoglu.

“No [party member] will yield to bullying or take a step back,” Kilicdaroglu said before leaving Berlin. “We have promised to take the country out of this darkness.”

Murat Ongun, a press officer for Imamoglu, and another assistant testified in court earlier during the trial, confirming that the mayor’s statements were in reaction to Soylu.

“Either before or after this event, or even on 6 May [2019] when the elections were canceled, I did not hear any negative words from Ekrem Imamoglu concerning the [Supreme Electoral Council] members,” news outlet T24 cited Ongun as saying. “All of his statements were made toward political figures.”