Thousands join rally in Istanbul against conviction of main opposition chairwoman

Thousands of people on Saturday flocked to a rally in Istanbul led by the country’s main opposition party to protest a jail sentence handed down to the chairwoman of the party’s Istanbul branch.

Protesters began arriving after noon at the megacity’s Maltepe district for the “Voice of the Nation” rally, a demonstration against an almost five-year sentence handed down by the country’s top court  to the Republican People's Party's (CHP) Canan Kaftancıoğlu on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and terror propaganda.

Heightened security measures were implemented around the Orhangazi City Park in Maltepe, T24 news site reported, including hundreds of riot police and barricades around the premises. Some protesters were seen wearing t-shirts with the image of Kaftancıoğlu.

A number of roads leading to the rally premises have been closed to traffic, according to Diken news site. 

Originally scheduled to take place in northwestern Bursa province, the CHP rally was moved to Istanbul following the Kaftancıoğlu’s conviction, which may result in the standout party official’s political ban.

Demonstrators chanted songs and waved the opposition and national flags, as the families of Gezi park demonstrations took to the stage to salute the crowds, according to T24.

Addressing the crowds, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused Erdoğan’s government of “’intimating people through fear.’’

“Their only goal is to create an environment of fear and to benefit from this. They are trying to scare you, this nation, in order to maintain this system,” Diken cited the CHP leader as saying.

CHP’s Kaftancıoğlu has been targeted in numerous lawsuits after her key role in the party’s victory in the 2019 local elections when the secular centre-left party won both Istanbul and Ankara after more than two decades of conservative mayors.

The latest conviction against the CHP official is seen as another crackdown on Erdoğan opponents.

Turkey has been widely criticised in recent years for undermining the rule of law, particularly due to practices during a two-year emergency rule declared after a coup attempt in 2016. The country 117th among 139 countries in the 2021 Rule of Law Index, a measure of how the rule of law is perceived in countries around the world by the influential non-profit civil society organisation World Justice Project.

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