Turkey: Istanbul mayor given two-year jail sentence and 'political ban'
The mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, has been sentenced to more than two years in prison and handed a "political ban" by a court in Turkey.
Imamoglu, a member of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), faces two years, seven months and 15 days in prison on charges of insulting Turkish officials.
If upheld, the sentence will also see him barred from holding political office, scuppering the popular politician's chances of becoming a candidate in 2023's presidential election.
'This is a plot against Imamoglu, the only candidate who can beat Erdogan'
- protester in Istanbul
Imamoglu can still appeal against the verdict, however, which will allow him to finish his current term as mayor rather than be removed from office.
Regardless of his appeal outcome, he is also unlikely to face any jail time unless he commits a repeat offence within the next five years.
"We clearly see that the judiciary is not really independent. It has once again became obvious that the functioning of the judiciary is dominated by politics, not the principles of justice," said Imamoglu, in a speech following the verdict.
"Our political rivals, power and interest focal points, must have understood that they could not stand against us at the ballot boxes and they could not cut us off, and thus they resorted to such a path.
This is the wrong way. Because one day justice will also be needed by those who politicise the judiciary."
Thousands of supporters rallied as the hearing took place at the Istanbul Anadolu 7th Penal Court of First Instance.
Supporters chanted slogans and held Turkish flags in their hands, while some were visibly angry with the high police presence in the municipality square.
“We are here to support an elected politician. We are doing nothing illegal," shouted one man.
Other chanted for the resignation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Interior Ministry Suleyman Soylu.
The charges stem from comments made by Imamoglu in 2019, following mayoral elections on 31 March that year in which he was victorious.
The results of that election were overturned after claims were made about voting irregularities by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
New elections were called which saw a groundswell of support for Imamoglu, with many of those who had not voted for him previously switching over.
"Those who cancelled the 31 March election are idiots," he told reporters at the time.
Ankara's mayor, Mansur Yavas, also a CHP member, condemned Wednesday's verdict on Twitter, saying it was "unconnected to justice and law".
Polling has repeatedly shown a number of CHP leaders pulling ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, raising the possibility that elections next year could see the end of his two decades of rule.
Both Imamoglu and Yavas enjoy widespread support and have been seen as possible candidates for the presidency.
“This is a plot against Imamoglu, the only candidate who can beat Erdogan,” a protestor in Istanbul told Middle East Eye.
Another woman, waving a Turkish flag with a silhouette of CHP founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on it, referenced the boost of support he enjoyed following the re-run of the mayoral elections.
“Now, he’ll come back even stronger and ascend to the presidential post!”