©Reuters. Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu salutes his supporters as they gather outside his office as a Turkish court sentenced Imamoglu to more than two years in prison and imposed a political ban on insulting officials, in Istanbul, Turkey December 14 , 2 2/3
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said on Thursday his jail sentence handed down this week was a punishment for his success as opposition parties rally to support him and try to oust President Tayyip Erdogan ahead of elections in the to challenge next year.
A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced Imamoglu to two years and seven months in prison and a political ban, both of which must be upheld by an appeals court. The verdict was criticized at home and abroad as an abuse of democracy.
Imamoglu, who is seen as a strong potential challenger to Erdogan, called on people in Turkey’s largest city to show “unity and solidarity” by joining him and the leaders of six opposition parties at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT) at the headquarters joined the community.
“Sometimes no victory goes unpunished in our country,” he said. “I see this senseless and unlawful punishment inflicted on me as a reward for my success.”
Imamoglu was convicted of insulting public officials in a speech he made after winning Istanbul’s 2019 local elections. Critics say Turkish courts are bowing to Erdogan’s will. The government says the judiciary is independent.
Presidential and parliamentary elections, due to be held by June, could be Erdogan’s biggest political challenge yet after two decades in power, as Turks grapple with rising living costs following a currency collapse and a surge in inflation.
The six-party opposition coalition formed against Erdogan, led by Imamoglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), has yet to agree on their presidential candidate. Imamoglu has been discussed as a possible challenger and polls suggest he would defeat Erdogan.
Imamoglu was taken to court over a speech in which he said those who annulled the first vote of 2019 – in which he narrowly defeated a candidate from Erdogan’s AK party – were “fools”. Imamoglu says his remark was a response to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu for using the same language against him.
After the initial results were annulled, he confidently won the re-vote, ending the 25-year rule of the AKP and its Islamist predecessors in Turkey’s largest city.