Istanbul Mayor’s trial clouded as the judges were replaced again

Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), largely under the influence of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), replaced two judges slated to hear the appeal of İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu. The appeal pertains to a prison sentence and political ban imposed on him in connection with a controversial case.


İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu gained national attention in March 2019 when he secured a victory against Binali Yildirim, the AKP candidate, in the mayoral election. However, the victory was short-lived as the High Election Board (YSK), also under AKP’s influence, nullified the results, citing irregularities. The decision to annul the election sparked controversy and was condemned by İmamoğlu as “foolish”.

In a subsequent election re-run, İmamoğlu once again triumphed over Yildirim, this time by a significant margin, effectively ending the AKP’s longstanding rule in İstanbul.


The Indictment

In May 2021, nearly two years after his criticism of the YSK’s decision, İmamoğlu found himself indicted for insulting the High Election Board. His remark, in which he labelled the annulment decision as “foolish,” led to a legal case. The case was assigned to the Istanbul 7th Penal Court of First Instance, presided over by Judge Hüseyin Zengin.

Replacement of the Trial Judge

Illustration/REUTERS/Catherine TaiIllustration/REUTERS/Catherine Tai

As the case closed to the end, the Turkish media reported that Judge Hüseyin Zengin had been pressured to render a conviction and political ban and that he had denied submitting to such political pressure. Three subsequent developments strongly suggested that this allegation was in fact true. In an apparent act of intimidation, pro-government media groups published several reports accusing Judge Zengin of being linked to the Gulen Movement which was an explicit threat to him as more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed over such allegation. Moreover, Judge Zengin was unexpectedly transferred to Samsun province before the fifth and final hearing of the case, although he had the right to work in Istanbul for another eight years. Finally, the new judge, Mehdi Komsul, replaced Zengin and sentenced İmamoğlu in December 2022.

İmamoğlu eventually was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison and banned from political activity.

The verdict against Ekrem İmamoğlu is a travesty of justice and an attack on the democratic process, demonstrating that as the 2023 elections approach the government is prepared to misuse courts to sideline or silence key opposition figures, the verdict violates not only İmamoğlu’s rights but also denies Istanbul’s voters their rights when it deprives them of their chosen representative.” — Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.

Appeal, Upcoming Election and Replacement of Appeal Judges

İmamoğlu appealed the conviction and political ban, labelling them as politically motivated measures to undermine his position. He just recently publicly announced his intention to run for the mayorship of İstanbul once again which is set to be held in March 2024.

As the election approached, on the eve of the commencement of the appeal process, the HSK once again stepped in and replaced two of three judges who were to consider İmamoğlu’s appeal. The presiding judge, Sezai Öztürk, and another member, Rüştü Yamak, were transferred to other posts without their requests.

The issue of judicial independence has been a contentious topic in Turkey for years, with critics accusing the government of manipulating the judiciary for its own interests. The HSK has frequently utilized its power to reassign judges and prosecutors, a practice that has intensified since 2014, with hundreds of judicial personnel moved based on the outcomes of their decisions.

The replacements of judges in İmamoğlu’s appeal case casts a shadow over the upcoming election and underscores the persistent challenges Turkey faces in maintaining a judiciary free from political interference. As the nation prepares for another critical election, the balance between government control and judicial autonomy remains a key concern, with implications for the integrity of the democratic process.

Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog

Tags: , , ,

%d bloggers like this: