A Turkish prosecutor repeated a demand on Friday for Istanbul’s mayor to be convicted on charges of insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council.
The demand was made during the third hearing of a trial critics allege is an attempt to remove a key opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the political scene.
Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a member of the opposition Republican People’s Party, faces up to four years in prison if found guilty of the charge and could also be barred from holding office.
Imamoglu was elected to lead Turkey’s largest city in March 2019.
His win was a historic blow to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which had controlled Istanbul for a quarter-century.
The party pushed to void the municipal election results in the city of 16 million, alleging irregularities.
The challenge resulted in a repeat of the election a few months later. Imamoglu won again — that time with a comfortable majority.
Insult from 2019 at the centre of allegations
His trial is based on accusations that he insulted members of the electoral council when he described cancelling legitimate elections as “foolishness” on 4 November 2019.
The mayor denies insulting members of the council, insisting his words were a response to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu calling him “a fool” and accusing Imamoglu of criticizing Turkey during a visit to the European Parliament.
Gulsah Ince, a reporter for Turkey’s Fox TV, testified as a defence witness during Friday’s hearing. She told the court that Imamoglu made the statement after she asked him to respond to Soylu calling him “a fool,” the Halk TV news channel and other media reported.
A request for the court to hear two more defence witnesses was rejected.
Asked to deliver his final argument in the trial, the prosecutor renewed his demand that Imamoglu is convicted of the charge, sentenced, and barred from holding office, according to Halk TV.
The trial was then adjourned until 14 December to give Imamoglu’s lawyers time to prepare their final defence arguments and for authorities to review their request for the panel of judges to be discharged and replaced for alleged bias.
Government critics regard the trial as an attempt to prevent the popular mayor from running against Erdogan in presidential and parliamentary elections currently scheduled for June 2023.
If convicted, Imamoglu could lose his post as mayor and be replaced by someone close to Erdogan’s ruling party.
Imamoglu, who did not attend the hearing, later told reporters that he was “surprised” and “saddened” by the prosecutor’s request.
“I would have expected acquittal and for this trial to end today,” he said.
He added: “May God protect our country and its people from harm, from people who have no conscience, no morals, no justice.”