by IANS |
Istanbul, Dec 15 (IANS) A Turkish court has sentenced the mayor of Istanbul to prison and barred him from holding political office.
Wednesday's ruling for Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) was two years, seven months and 15 days in prison over charges of insulting members of Turkey's Supreme Electoral Council, reports Xinhua news agency.
However, government critics said this sentence was to remove a potential rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the lead-up to presidential elections next year.
The mayor has seven days to appeal the ruling.
In a tweet on Wednesday night, he said: "Today's verdict is an attack on the will of millions of Istanbulites who democratically elected a mayor for their city three years ago.
"But nothing ends here. We will be meeting our fellow city residents outside @municipalityist at 16:00 tomorrow (Thursday)."
Imamoglu was elected mayor of Istanbul in March 2019, a historic upset for Erdogan's Justice and Development Party which had controlled the city for nearly two decades.
After the government challenged the election results citing irregularities, a repeat election in June even widened Imamoglu's narrow lead of 13,000 votes into a margin of 800,000.
He was charged with insulting members of the electoral council in a comment he made in November 2019, where he described the cancellation of the elections as "foolishness".
He denies having insulted the council, saying his comment was in response to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu calling him "a fool" who criticizes Turkey.
In the trial that began on Wednesday morning, the court denied the request by Imamoglu's lawyers that Soylu be heard in court.
A second request for an extension was also denied.
According to party officials, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has ended his visit to Germany and is returning to Istanbul.