A Turkish prosecutor requested on Friday that a court convict and impose a political ban on Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a popular rival of President Tayyip Erdogan, for insulting public officials, but the case was adjourned to December.
Imamoglu is on trial for a speech he made in 2019 about mayoral elections that were annulled that year, in which he said those who made the decision to repeat the elections were “fools.”
Polls show Imamoglu would be a strong challenger to Erdogan if he were to run in next year’s national elections. A main opposition presidential candidate has not yet been chosen.
The court adjourned the case to evaluate the defence lawyer’s request that the judge be recused. It set the next hearing for Dec. 14. The crime of which Imamoglu is accused carries a maximum prison sentence of four years.
“The (prosecutor’s) opinion being produced without reviewing our judge recusal request is against judicial proceeding norms and that shows that they came prepared with the ruling,” said Gokhan Gunaydin, a lawyer for Imamoglu.
A jail sentence or political ban would need to be upheld by any appeal courts, potentially extending beyond the election set for no later than June 2023.
The district governor issued a statement banning protests in the area for the day and police officers sealed off roads approaching the courthouse on the Asian side of Istanbul.
More than 1,000 people gathered in support of Imamoglu at a city square around 2 km away, which was excluded from the ban. The crowd held up his party’s banners and chanted “you’ll never walk alone”.
“I am ashamed of this court. I couldn’t care less,” Imamoglu said in an interview with broadcaster Fox TV on Friday morning.
The outcome of Turkey’s elections in 2023 is seen hinging on the ability of Imamoglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) and others in opposition to join forces against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has governed for two decades.