The main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) popular Istanbul officials are under pressure of trials and political bans as Turkey is nearing the 2023 elections.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, whose rising popularity often put his name on the top of the list for the candidates against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the Presidential race, was on trial on June 1 for “insulting the officials.”
“The fact that such a case exists in Turkey, that it is carried out and continued, and the description of the sentence previously put forward by the prosecution is truly embarrassing,” he said in Istanbul after the case adjourned to September.
A day before on May 31, CHP’s Istanbul Provincial head Canan Kaftancıoğlu turned herself in to Silivri Prison Officials as she was sentenced to 4 years in prison for “insulting the president” with her social media posts dated five years ago. Her sentence came with a political ban which hinders her from being elected as a parliamentary representative.
“Today they will put 16 million Istanbulites’ will on trial. Today, there is the trial of our Mayor Ekrem. We will be there,” she said in front of the prison on June 1, as she was released from prison after her probation procedures were concluded.
Istanbul Head in Prison for Tweets
Kaftancıoğlu was sentenced to 9 years in prison in 2019 on the grounds of “terror propaganda”, “insulting public officials”,” publicly insulting the president”, “openly humiliating the State of the Republic of Turkey” and “openly provoking people to hatred and enmity” for her Twitter posts dated between 2012 and 2017.
The trial came just after Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality was transferred to the opposition CHP’s hand in local elections which were held twice following the ruling party’s objections to the results. Before the CHP candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu took the seat in 2019, the city had been under Erdoğan’s parties for almost 25 years since Erdoğan was elected as the mayor in 1994 with Welfare Party (RP).
After the appeal process, the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld total of 4 years in a prison sentence for the insult charges on May 12, overruling the terror propaganda charges. According to the criminal enforcement laws, she applied for probation and was incarcerated for only a few hours on May 31.
Istanbul Mayor under trial
The same year in 2019, Istanbul Anatolian Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office Special Investigation Bureau filed a lawsuit against CHP’s Istanbul Metropolitan mayor, based on the criminal complaint issued by the Supreme Board of Election Presidency (YSK).
Their complaint came after a series of exchanges of words between İmamoğlu and the Minister of Interior Affairs Süleyman Soylu, who referred to İmamoğlu as an “idiot” for the speech in which he criticized the YSK’s ruling which lead to the renewal of the local elections upon ruling party’s request.
Responding to Soylu, İmamoğlu said “the real idiots are the ones who cancelled the election on March 31,” which lead YSK officials to sue him for “insulting state officials”.
In the first hearing of the case in April, the prosecutor asked for a year and 3 months prison sentence for “publicly insulting public officials for their working as a board”. The prosecutor also demanded the implementation of Article 53 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which stipulates a “political prohibition”.
The case was adjourned to September in the second hearing held on June 1.
“Long tradition of using judiciary as a weapon”
Speaking to a group of journalists after the hearing, İmamoğlu referred to President Erdoğan’s parliamentary group meeting where he called Gezi Park Protesters “gadabout”.
“On the day of my hearing, under the Parliamentary roof, we see the President’s insult in a speech where he addressed millions of people; an insult which I cannot utter,” İmamoğlu said.
“It is unfortunate for the judiciary even to initiate such trial. There has been a long tradition of using the judiciary as a weapon to suppress opposition,” he said. “They want to put society under stress. Even the current political cadres of today’s government have difficulty in understanding what has been done,” he added.
In the case where 66 people were tried for physically attacking CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu in 2019, the court sentenced a suspect 3 years in prison for “deliberate injury” and postponed to enforce the sentence. 55 defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 7 months to 8 years in prison.