ISTANBUL (AP) — A prosecutor on Friday repeated a demand for Istanbul’s mayor to be convicted on charges of insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council, 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.
His trial is based on accusations that he insulted members of the electoral council when he described canceling legitimate elections as “foolishness” on Nov. 4, 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 defense 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 defense witnesses was rejected.
Asked to deliver his final argument in the trial, the prosecutor renewed his demand that Imamoglu be convicted of the charge, sentenced and barred from holding office, according to Halk TV.
The trial was then adjourned until Dec. 14 to give Imamoglu’s lawyers time to prepare their final defense 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 didn’t 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 Allah protect our country and its people from harm from people who have no conscience, no morals, no justice.”
Several mayors from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, who were also elected in 2019, were removed from office over alleged links to Kurdish militants and replaced by state-appointed trustees.
Dozens of HDP lawmakers and thousands of party members were arrested on terror-related accusations as part of a government crackdown on the party.
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara.