A court in Turkey – where critics said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds powerful sway over decisions to silence dissidents – convicted Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu of charges critics said were trumped-up to keep him from running against the President or holding political office.
Erdogan is facing a re-election fight in 2023 as his iron hand grip on the country is facing challenges. The conviction of Imamoğlu on charges of insulting officials was seen as also throttling him and removing an opponent, The Wall Street Journal said in a hard-hitting editorial.
With inflation at a 24-year high of 85.5 percent, Erdogan has also turned to threatening an invasion of Greece and firing missiles at Athens in an apparent attempt to deflect attention from the economy, while journalists are being jailed and harassed, and anyone contesting him facing his wrath.
The Journal said the conviction of Imamoğlu, who narrowly beat Erdogan’s preferred candidate in 2019 only to see a court throw the victory out and order a new election – which he won by an even bigger margin – was another attempt by Erdogan to have near total control of the country.
“Erdoğan must be worried if this week’s move against a prominent opposition figure are any indication,” the paper said, calling his conviction “trumped-up” and not designed as much to jail him. A technicality could prevent that but if upheld the ruling would remove him from office and taking on Erdogan for President.
“Imamoğlu hasn’t been arrested and may not serve time under a quirk in Turkish law. But the ruling disqualifies Mr. Imamoğlu from holding or running for political office, which may be the point,” the paper noted.
The conviction stems from Imamoğlu, after winning a second election, responding to a taunt from Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu who criticized him as “the fool going and complaining about Turkey to the European Parliament.”
Imamoğlu countered that, “It is those who cancelled the March 31 elections who are the fools,” referring to the decision 3 ½ years earlier that tried to keep him from taking his post.
Prosecutors said that remark broke the law because it criticized an official who criticized him, but didn’t face any charges for violating the same law that was seen put into effect to thwart free speech.
ONLY HIS WAY
The convictions seems to have backfired on Erdogan as thousands of Turks rallied in the streets to protest and denounced the President’s growing authoritarianism that has even see the European Union back away from confronting him.
Demonstrators chanted slogans blasting Erdogan and his ruling AKP Party and the ruling that sentenced Imamoğlu to 31 months in prison, which would keep him from running against Erdogan, who wants a clear field.
His conviction and a ban on staying in office must be confirmed by an appeals court but those almost always follow Erdogan’s way, the verdict seem domestically and abroad as an abuse of democracy, said Reuters.
The protests only added to the attempt to jail the mayor, the news agency said, noting that media reports said the prosecutor challenged the verdict and wants an even longer jail term over alleged insult.
As patriotic music blared, the crowd waved Turkish flags in front of Istanbul’s municipality building, from which was draped a huge portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder whose secular principles Erdogan’s opponents say are under threat, the report added.
“Rights, law, justice. … the day will come when the AKP is called to account,” the crowd chanted, Erdogan apparently feeling the heat of unusually strong resistance to his near-total control of the country after an earlier referendum gave him unprecedented powers.
“The government is afraid and that’s why there was such a verdict. Nobody can stop this nation,” Filiz Kumbasar, 56, who traveled to the rally from Duzce, a town 200 kilometers away (125 miles) from Istanbul told the news agency.
“You beat them two times already and you’ll do it again,” Imamoglu told the crowd, referring to the initial 2019 vote that elected him, only to see it tossed before an even stronger repudiation of Erdogan brought him back.
“All 16 million Istanbulites, our nation and our big Turkey alliance is behind me. We will change this order in the election next year,” the Mayor said.
The six-party opposition alliance formed against Erdogan, led by Imamoglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), has yet to agree on a Presidential candidate. Imamoglu has been mooted as a possible challenger and polls suggest he would defeat Erdogan, the report added.
“We are here today to protect our rights and the votes of millions of people from Istanbul. We are here because we want to live in a country where there’s rule of law,” said Aslihan Gulhan, who works in the tourism sector.