Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu due back in court


Istanbul's popular mayor is due back in court on Friday for the latest instalment of a highly controversial trial that could see him banned from politics over a remark he made after beating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ally in 2019 polls.

Ekrem Imamoglu, a member of Turkey's main opposition social democratic party CHP, did not appear at his last hearing on 21 September, which was then postponed.

As tensions bubble up seven months ahead of presidential and legislative elections, Imamoglu, 52, could face four years in prison for "insulting" public officials after being stripped of his narrow March 2019 win over the ruling party's candidate.

Erdogan – who launched his own career as Istanbul mayor and views the city as his home turf – refused to recognise the result and election officials called a fresh poll after reportedly discovering hundreds of thousands of "suspicious votes" after Imamoglu had already been sworn in.

The decision to call a re-run sparked global condemnation and mobilised a groundswell of support for Imamoglu that included former ruling party voters. He won the re-run, 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.

Prosecutors have asked for Imamoglu to be banned from politics and jailed for 15 months – a relatively light sentence that almost never sees people put behind bars. But his lawyer, Kemal Polat, blasting a "political affair", has said that any sentence of more than a year would automatically ban Imamoglu from political office for four years.

In an interview broadcast on Fox TV on Friday, Imamoglu said he had faith in the justice system. "I am absolutely not interested in what will happen to me. I do not feel worry nor fear," he said. "But I am ashamed of this process. 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 Erdogan look to extend his two-decade rule.

Friday's hearing comes one week after the party of CHP chairman and potential presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu said he had been charged under a new disinformation law with "spreading misleading information". A conviction could rule him out of the presidential poll.

Kilicdaroglu had tweeted that he held the Islamic-rooted 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 Imamoglu, Kilicdaroglu 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.

Erdogan'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 sympathisers of U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan, once an ally, believes was behind the coup attempt against his regime.

Gulen, 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 Gulen.    (AFP)

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