An İstanbul court has adjourned until September a trial in which the mayor of İstanbul, a member of Turkey’s main opposition party, faces prison as well as a possible political ban on charges of insulting election officials, Turkish media outlets reported.
All eyes were on the İstanbul 7th Penal Court of First Instance on Wednesday as Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are accused by critics of using judicial mechanisms to sideline their opponents ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2023.
Hundreds of supporters of İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu gathered in front of the Anadolu Courthouse before the hearing, which was followed by an army of journalists.
During Wednesday’s hearing, a request by İmamoğlu’s lawyers for the recusal of the judge was rejected. Kemal Polat, representing İmamoğlu, said during the hearing that an expert report proves that the mayor did not target members of the Supreme Board of Elections (YSK) with his remarks, which according to the indictment insulted the officials.
Moreover, the prosecutor in the trial asked for additional time for the witnesses to be heard. The court accepted the prosecutor’s request and adjourned the trial until Sept. 21.
İmamoğlu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), ended the years-long rule of the AKP in İstanbul in the 2019 local elections.
He is standing trial due to remarks he made at a news conference in November 2019 regarding the cancellation of the municipal vote in İstanbul held on March 31, 2019 in which he won against the mayoral candidate of the AKP. İmamoğlu also won a repeat election held two months later by increasing his support.
At the news conference İmamoğlu criticized the YSK, which decided to cancel the İstanbul poll, citing irregularities. He said at the time that the people who cancelled the March 31 election in İstanbul were “fools” because they had tarnished Turkey’s international image.
The İstanbul mayor was indicted in May 2021 due to his statements about YSK officials on accusations that his remarks were an insult to the honor, dignity and prestige of the officials.
The indictment, drafted by the Anadolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, accused İmamoğlu of insulting 10 YSK officials including then-YSK chairman Sadi Güven. The indictment seeks a jail sentence of four years for the mayor in addition to his punishment in line with the 53rd Article of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which could mean a political ban.
However, İmamoğlu said at the first hearing in January that his remarks, which were in response to a question from a reporter, were not aimed at the YSK officials but at Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who in an earlier statement used the same word against him.
In November 2019 Soylu called İmamoğlu a “fool” due to the mayor’s criticism of the Turkish government at a Council of Europe event in Strasbourg a month earlier, saying he would pay the price for what he did.
İmamoğlu delivered a speech at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe on Oct. 30, 2019 in which he spoke about the rerun of the March 31 local election in İstanbul because, he said, the AKP manipulated the results and had the election cancelled by the election authority.
“I am saying this to the fool who went to Europe and complained about Turkey there. This nation will make you pay the price for this. Shame on you. Shame on you for the schools of this nation you attended, for the effort this nation made for you,” Soylu said in a veiled reference to İmamoğlu at the time.
İmamoğlu is a possible candidate for the presidential election scheduled for 2023. Many say the mayor is the subject of frequent judicial harassment due to his popularity and for ending the years-long AKP rule in İstanbul.