Turkish prosecutors on Friday sought to jail the mayor of İstanbul for at least 15 months, a sentence that would see him banned from politics, over a remark he made after beating an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the 2019 elections, Agence France-Presse reported, citing his lawyer.
Ekrem İmamoğlu, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), did not appear at the latest hearing of the controversial trial on Friday, which was adjourned until Dec. 14.
As tensions simmer seven months ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections, İmamoğlu, 52, faces charges of “insulting” public officials after being stripped of his narrow March 2019 win over the ruling party’s candidate.
Prosecutors on Friday demanded İmamoğlu be jailed for between 15 months and four years, his lawyer, Kemal Polat, said.
Any sentence of more than a year would automatically ban the mayor from political office for four years, the attorney said, denouncing the “political affair.”
Erdoğan — who launched his own career as İstanbul mayor and views the city as his home turf — refused to recognize the 2019 election result, and election officials called a fresh poll after reportedly discovering hundreds of thousands of “suspicious votes” after İmamoğlu had already been sworn in.
The decision to call a rerun sparked global condemnation and mobilized a groundswell of support for İmamoğlu that included former ruling party voters.
He won the rerun, but months later let his resentment at the ruling party spill over.
“Those who cancelled the March 31 election are idiots,” he told reporters at the time, sparking the ire of the authorities.
In an interview broadcast on Fox TV on Friday, İmamoğlu said he had faith in the justice system.
“I am absolutely not interested in what will happen to me. I do not feel worry or fear,” he said.
“But I am ashamed” by this trial. “There cannot be such a ruling. It’s tragicomic.”
His fate is being watched closely for signs of judicial independence ahead of an election which will see Erdoğan look to extend his two-decade rule.
Friday’s hearing came one week after the party of CHP chairman and potential presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said he had been charged under a new disinformation law with “spreading misleading information.”
A conviction could rule him out of the presidential poll.
Kılıçdaroğlu had tweeted that he held the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government responsible for what he called “an epidemic of methamphetamines” in Turkey, claiming authorities were syphoning off money from drug sales to help pay off the national debt.
Regarding İmamoğlu, Kılıçdaroğlu has accused Ankara of “banning our mayor from all political activity” but warned his colleague was “a big player who will stick in the throat” of those seeking to orchestrate his downfall.
Erdoğan’s administration is battling an economic crisis with inflation running at 85 percent over the past year and is out to clip the wings of an opposition still reeling from the waves of arrests which followed a failed 2016 coup.
Recent weeks have seen hundreds of arrests of sympathizers of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Erdoğan, once an ally, believes was behind the coup attempt against his regime.
Gülen, a Muslim cleric, has repeatedly denied any involvement and the United States has denied Turkey’s requests for his extradition.
Since the failed putsch, more than 300,000 people have been arrested in Turkey over suspected ties to Gülen.