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Turkey’s top judicial body asked to investigate replacement of judge in trial of İstanbul mayor

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Lawyers for İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu have submitted a petition to Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) asking it to investigate the replacement of a judge who was allegedly pressured by prosecutors during the mayor’s recent trial, the Birgün daily reported on Friday.

On Dec. 14, İmamoğlu, a key opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was sentenced to almost three years in prison and barred from politics for allegedly insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK).

The ruling came after judge Hüseyin Zengin, who oversaw İmamoğlu’s trial, was transferred from İstanbul to Samsun and replaced by another judge.

Journalist Barış Terkoğlu said in a column in the Cumhuriyet daily early in November that Zengin was replaced after he told some of his colleagues of his decision to give İmamoğlu a suspended sentence since he thought a longer sentence would be “unjust.”

According to Terkoğlu, an official at the courthouse who found out about Zengin’s decision, whose name he declined to disclose, met with government officials and facilitated the judge’s appointment to Samsun by a presidential decree in June.

The sentence and political ban, if upheld by an appeals court, could disqualify İmamoğlu from running in the 2023 presidential election, leading opposition parties to accuse the government of attempting to eliminate a key opponent of President Erdoğan.

Turkish media reports on Friday said that İmamoğlu’s lawyers submitted a petition to the HSK asking them to investigate Zengin’s replacement and the claims regarding the development.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) party council member Gökhan Günaydın made a statement to the press along with İmamoğlu’s lawyers before they submitted the petition.

Günaydın said they asked the HSK to explain why Zengin was transferred to Samsun after the fifth hearing of İmamoğlu’s trial and address the serious public concerns about the issue.

He said their second request was that the HSK investigate claims that Zengin was pressured by some prosecutors to sentence İmamoğlu to more than two years in prison and ban him from politics.

İmamoğlu ended the years-long AKP rule in İstanbul when he defeated the party’s mayoral candidate twice in the local elections of 2019. He won a rerun election by a larger margin than the first, which had been canceled due to supposed irregularities.

The İstanbul mayor was tried for a speech in which he said the people who annulled the initial 2019 vote were “fools.” 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.

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