Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the courts would correct any mistakes in an appeal process after a court sentenced the mayor of Istanbul to more than two-and-a-half years in prison on charges of insulting members of the Supreme Electoral Council.
Erdogan made his first direct comments after the court on Wednesday sentenced Ekrem Imamoglu, a key opposition politician and a potential challenger to Erdogan, to two years and seven months in prison and handed him a political ban.
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Imamoglu was prosecuted for insulting public officials in 2019 when he criticised a decision to cancel the first round of municipal elections that he won and became the mayor of Istanbul. His win was seen as a blow to Erdogan and his AK Party.
“There’s still no final court decision yet. The case will go to the Court of Appeals and the Court of Cassation,” Erdogan said. “If the courts have made a mistake, it will be corrected. They’re trying to pull us into this game.”
Erdogan also said he did not care who the opposition candidate in next year’s elections is.
On Friday, thousands of people in Istanbul gathered to protest against the conviction and political ban, voicing criticism of Turkey’s government ahead of elections next year that are set to pose a big test to Erdogan’s 20-year rule.
“There have been many court rulings that we have harshly criticised ourselves, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to insult judges or to ignore court rulings,” Erdogan told a rally at Mardin in Turkey’s southeast.
Imamoglu himself called the sentence “political and unlawful”.
Imamoglu was tried for defamation over a speech after the Istanbul mayoral elections in June 2019 in which he said those who annulled an initial vote held three months earlier were “fools”. The AK Party refused to acknowledge Imamoglu’s initial win.
Critics say Turkey’s judiciary has been bent to Erdogan’s will to punish his critics. The government says they are independent.