Prison sentence against Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu

Press notice by our Foreign Affairs Spokespersons Feleknas Uca & Hişyar Özsoy:

As we get closer to presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey, which must take place by June next year, President Erdoğan and his allies continue to use underhand methods to eliminate their political opponents that they cannot defeat politically, making use of the judiciary, which is almost completely under their control. The latest example of this is the prison sentence given to the Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s İstanbul Mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu.

İmamoğlu has been sentenced to 2 years, 7 months, and 15 days in prison by the İstanbul Anadolu 7th Penal Court of First Instance for “insulting public officials”. If the court of appeal upholds the verdict, the mayor will be banned from politics, who is a potential presidential candidate, and lose his seat.

The charges against İmamoğlu are based on his critical comment about the annulment of the March 2019 Istanbul mayoral election, which was cancelled for ‘irregularities’ when İmamoğlu appeared to have just ousted the AKP candidate. The election was then re-run in June when İmamoğlu won by a substantial majority. On 30 October 2019, İmamoğlu made a criticism of the cancellation of the first poll to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in Strasbourg. On 4th November, Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, stated, “I am telling to the fool who complained about Turkey in the European Parliament; this person will make you pay for this". Whereupon, İmamoğlu replied, “When we consider the ones who cancelled the March 31 election and the situation that we found ourselves in across the world and in Europe, when we consider what happened back then, the ones who cancelled the March 31 election are fools”. The Supreme Election Board (YSK) filed a criminal complaint about İmamoğlu’s response, Minister Soylu intervened, and İmamoğlu was sued. In his written statement to the court, İmamoğlu indicated that his expression had been a political statement and a severe criticism, which had not specifically targeted anyone.  But the court has ruled that İmamoğlu insulted the members of the YSK.

This case follows the government targeting of another prominent CHP name, İstanbul Provincial Chair, Canan Kaftancıoğlu, On 12 May 2022, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeal approved a prison sentence of four years and eleven months for her. The court approved three different sentences against her: “insulting a public official”, “explicitly degrading the Turkish Republic”, and “insulting the president.” Kaftancıoğlu was head of the CHP in İstanbul when İmamoğlu ousted the AKP in the 2019 mayoral elections. Charges were made against her following the March elections, based on social media postings that she had shared eight years ago. A local court initially sentenced her to a total of nine years imprisonment for five separate charges, including “making terrorist propaganda”.

The prison sentences against İmamoğlu and Kaftancıoğlu should be understood as further crackdowns on government opposition ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections. Over one hundred and fifty co-mayors of the HDP have been arrested on bogus terrorism-related charges, either after the local elections in 2014 or after those in 2019. The government is now using the judiciary as a stick to batter critical politicians of the other opposition groups.

The ruling AKP-MHP coalition is responding to the loss of public support by trying to implement all kinds of unlawfulness in order to stay in power.

The government’s pressure on their opponents is likely to increase, as we get closer to the elections. On December 19th, the Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation asked the Court to block HDP’s bank accounts and suspend the budget it is allocated from the Treasury.

The silence of the international community will contribute to the aggravation of the conditions under which the opposition carries out its activities in the run-up to the upcoming elections.

Feleknas Uca & Hişyar Özsoy
HDP’s Co-spokespersons for Foreign Affairs
20 December 2022