Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a prison sentence for the head of the İstanbul branch of the country’s main opposition party, a party official told Agence France-Presse, in a crackdown on government critics ahead of 2023’s presidential polls.
In 2019, Canan Kaftancıoğlu, 50, of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison on a range of charges including “terrorist propaganda” and insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The charges related mostly to tweets Kaftancıoğlu posted between 2012 and 2017. She had been free pending the appeals.
The top court on Thursday approved her conviction on three counts with a prison term of four years, 11 months and 20 days.
It was not immediately clear if the ruling means Kaftancıoğlu will be jailed right away.
The CHP is the second largest party in the Turkish parliament, holding 135 seats.
– ‘Canan is not alone’ –
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on his lawmakers to head to the party’s İstanbul headquarters.
“All lawmakers of our party, immediately set off for our İstanbul provincial headquarters,” he tweeted right after the ruling.
Dozens of supporters flooded the party center in İstanbul to welcome Kaftancıoğlu, who traveled from the capital Ankara, according to AFP journalists on the ground.
“Chairwoman Canan is not alone,” the crowds shouted. “The pressure cannot deter us.”
Kaftancıoğlu, a doctor by profession, played a key role in the shock victory of the CHP’s Istanbul mayoral candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu in 2019 — the first time Erdoğan’s party had lost power in Turkey’s biggest city for 25 years.
Kaftancıoğlu “is my comrade with whom we are striding together to change İstanbul,” İmamoğlu tweeted.
“I find this decision political and condemn it. I stand by our chairwoman.”
Rights groups regularly accuse Erdoğan of using the judiciary as a political tool, particularly after thousands of judges were purged in the wake of an attempted coup in 2016.
Erdoğan railed against Kaftancıoğlu after she was appointed to the İstanbul chair in 2016.
“Erdoğan doubles down on suppression as (he) loses ground amid growing economic pressure in the country,” Seren Selvin Korkmaz of İstanbul-based think tank IstanPol Institute commented.
“#Kaftancioglu is a rising figure within the #CHP and frequent government target … The (ruling AKP party) tries to take revenge of losing Istanbul by sending her to prison.”
Kaftancıoğlu vowed not to give in when she was convicted in 2019.
“They think they can scare us but we will continue to speak,” she said back then.
Among the tweets used by the prosecution against Kaftancıoğlu was one in which she criticized the death of a 14-year-old boy hit by a tear gas grenade during the mass “Gezi Park” protests of 2013.
The latest ruling comes on the heels of a life sentence handed by an İstanbul court to another Erdoğan critic and activist, Osman Kavala, last month.
A leading figure in Turkey’s civil society, the 64-year-old Kavala was accused of attempting to topple Erdoğan’s government by financing the 2013 protests.