Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatens rivals with jail

Left-wing CHP leader Canan Kaftancioglu inflicted a humiliating defeat on Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul in 2019. Now the Turkish president wants revenge in court.

Canan Kaftancioglu is a rising political star in Turkey. The popularity ratings of this 48-year-old doctor-turned-politician from the Black Sea region are among the highest in the country. 

She had always stood out in the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) with her left-wing views, and at the beginning of 2018 she was elected Istanbul’s provincial president.

But Kaftancioglu real breakthrough came a good year later after she masterminded one of the most successful election campaigns in Turkish history. This was the campaign of Ekrem Imamoglu, a relatively unknown local, in Istanbul’s mayoral elections of March 2019. Few people expected this newcomer to win against the ruling AKP’s candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. 

But the CHP’s focus on reconciliation rather than polarization in an emotional election went down well with the voters. The party’s decision to condemn nepotism, mismanagement, and the misspending of public funds turned out to be a good strategy during an economic crisis, as many voters grew sick of pomp and arrogance on the part of certain politicians. However, after Imamoglu only won by a small margin, the AKP refused to concede and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly put pressure on the election board to call for a re-run. To little avail: The next time round, the CHP won by a much clearer margin.

Increasing pressure

Losing the city, Turkey’s economic and social center with a population of 16 million, was the president’s biggest electoral defeat so far. And Kaftancioglu’s biggest victory. 

But she is now under growing legal pressure. In September 2019, she was sentenced to almost 10 years in jail after being charged with a series of crimes, including defamation, inciting public hatred and violence, spreading “terrorist propaganda,” as well as insulting the president and the Turkish state.

According to her supporters, the evidence against her came out of thin air, largely comprising a series of tweets she had posted between 2012 and 2017. CHP leaders said that her sentencing was an act of revenge for the election debacle in Istanbul. Kaftancioglu denied all the accusations and has appealed against the sentence. She cannot be jailed pending the appeals process. 

Now the Anatolian Public Prosecutor’s Office has filed a complaint against another member of the CHP, Suat Özcagdas, for photographing the house of Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish president’s communications director, in the Istanbul district of Üsküdar. If found guilty, he faces five years in jail for “violation of privacy.” Özcagdas took the photo as part of efforts to document unauthorized construction on public land. 

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