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ISTANBUL — A Turkish court’s decision this month to sentence Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu to prison and ban him from participating in politics for more than two years is proving unpopular. Critics say the ruling, handed down last Wednesday after the court convicted Imamoglu of insulting public officials, clearly favors President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party, known by the acronym AKP.
The decision came about due to Erdogan’s popularity stay low ahead of next year’s presidential race. It signals a potentially intense campaign season ahead, with Erdogan toying with his conservative and religious base of supporters. Elections must take place before June 23.
Hundreds of people took to the streets to protest Imamoglu’s prison sentence and political ban. Former Erdogan ally and former Turkish president Abdullah Gul said: “The court’s decision is a great injustice not only against Ekrem Imamoglu but also against Turkey. The will of the people is above all else. I believe the higher courts will correct this mistake.”
Analysts say Imamoglu would clearly be among Erdogan’s main rivals for another term, even though the mayor has never announced his run for president. Imamoglu called the court’s decision a “shame on the Turkish judiciary” and said it was “the strongest expression of the fact that the judiciary has been transformed into an instrument to punish dissidents.”
As a politician from Turkey’s main secular party, the Republican People’s Party, Imamoglu’s upset victory in the 2019 Istanbul mayoral race was seen as the biggest blow to the AKP since Erdogan came to power, first as prime minister of Turkey. Turkey and later as its first president. with strong executive powers.
The charges against Imamoglu stemmed from comments he made to the media in 2019, calling those responsible for canceling the first round of municipal elections, which he won, “fools.” He then went on to win the next round in decisive fashion.
Supporters of the mayor say he has been a favorite target of Erdogan and the AKP since he stunned some in the establishment with his 2019 mayoral victory. Critics allege that Turkey’s judiciary has over the years transformed into a frequently pro-Erdogan body.
The government insists that the judiciary has been and will continue to be independent.
A opinion poll by Turkey Report, a polling firm, found that a solid majority of respondents (64%) believe this month’s ruling against Imamoglu was “unfair.” Can Selcuki, director of the Turkey Report, says that only 14% described the ruling as fair and 22% did not register any opinion. Some 62% of those surveyed called the ruling a political decision, rather than a legal one.
The Biden administration deplored the ruling, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying in a sentence that the sentence “is incompatible with respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law”.
Price’s statement went on to say that the administration remains “gravely concerned by the continued judicial harassment of civil society, the media, political and business leaders in Turkey, including through prolonged pretrial detention, overly broad claims of support for terrorism and cases of criminal insults”. “
The head of TUSIAD, Turkey’s largest business association, also criticized the ruling, saying political bans “have no place in a democratic society.”
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For his part, President Erdogan said that if there were any errors in the ruling, the appeals court would correct it, but in the meantime, the Turks had no right to ignore legal rulings.
Erdogan added that he did not care who the opposition nominated for next year’s elections.