The main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) İstanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu was sentenced to 2 years in prison for insulting state officials, in a contentious court case on December 14.
İstanbul court sentenced İstanbul Mayor İmamoğlu for 2 years, 7 months, and 15 days in prison for “insulting public officials working as committee,” and prohibited him from political activities at the last trial of the case on December 14.
The CHP officials called for a rally in İstanbul’s Saraçhane, where prominent figures of opposition parties joined the İstanbul Mayor İmamoğlu and CHP’s İstanbul leader Canan Kaftancıoğlu.
“This case is proof that there is no justice left in Turkey. This is a case of political figures who say that they are the state, they are the nation, and that they own everything, shamelessly influencing the judiciary and making rulings. I wish this was a legal case, a trial before the justice system. In fact, this is the case with an order that we can describe as corrupt. Every decision they make is for their own benefit,” İmamoğlu said the crowd gathered in Saraçhane square after the ruling.
The sentence and political ban will be finalised only after the appeals court upholds the ruling.
CHP leader absent İYİ Party leader rallies
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu were in Berlin in the framework of his Germany visit to be held in 11 to 14 December. Following the ruling, the leader announced that he postponed his visits and return to Turkey.
“Any court ruling other than acquittal is a confession of being under the presidency’s influence and conspiracy. I am warning the palace (the presidency). Take your hands off the judiciary,” CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said in a video message from Berlin.
The CHP’s National Alliance partner and one of the six opposition parties that formed collaboration against Erdoğan, İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener was alongside İmamoğlu at İstanbul rally.
In her speech, she reminded the political ban issued against Erdoğan in 1998 for a poem he read in one of his public speech. Erdoğan was İstanbul Mayor then, and he was prohibited from entering parliamentary elections.
“Years ago, there was a mayor here who was convicted for reading a poem. He called out to you from here and said, ‘This song does not end here.’ Now I promise you. This song will not end here either,” Akşener said.
Rising stars facing a political ban
İmamoğlu’s rising popularity following the 2019 local election put his name on the top of the list of the candidates to run against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the upcoming Presidential Race.
The İstanbul municipality was handed over to the opposition in the 2019 elections for the first time after almost 25 years since Erdoğan was elected as mayor in 1994 with the Welfare Party (RP). The election was held twice as the AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) objected to the results, arguing that it was not a fair election.
İmamoğlu also won the seat in the second election, marking the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) first defeat in a major city, as Erdoğan famously stated, “Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.”
Canan Kaftancoğlu, the CHP’s Istanbul Provincial Head, was another key player in the victory. Following the elections, Kaftancıoğlu was sentenced 9 years in prison in 2019 for “terror propaganda,” “insulting the president,” and “humiliating the Republic of Turkey.” A four-year sentence was upheld by the appeals court in June 2022. She was barred from engaging in political activities as a result of the affirmed sentence.
The case against İmamoğlu was filed same year in 2019, following a series of exchanges of words with İnterior Minister Süleyman Soylu.
İmamoğlu first criticised the AKP government and Erdoğan at the European Council Congress in Strasbourg for using state resources to their advantage in elections. The interior minister then addressed İmamoğlu, saying, “I am telling this to the idiot who criticised Turkey in Europe. The people will make you pay for this.”
Responding to a journalist who asked what he would say about Soylu’s words, İmamoğlu said “The real idiots were the ones who renewed the 2019 local elections.”
His words led the High Election Committee, which is responsible for the renewal of the elections, to sue him for “insulting the state officials.”
Appeal process to be finalized
At the first hearing, held in April, the prosecutor asked for a prison sentence and the implementation of Article 53 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which stipulates a “political prohibition.”
During the court hearings, the journalist asking the question stated that İmamoğlu formed that sentence as an answer to Soylu, and the words were not addressed to the High Election Committee. In addition, the judge also confirmed that İmamoğlu referred to Soylu.
The statements did not change the ruling, which strengthened the critics’ opinion that the case was politically motivated and under political influence.
His legal team will appeal against the ruling. He will stay in office during the appeal proces, and the finalization of the verdict will wait for the higher court’s decision.