Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip ErdoganReuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted on Saturday he had "nothing to do" with the jailing of Istanbul's popular opposition mayor, an outcome set to prevent the latter from standing in next June's presidential election. AFP reported.

Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu was sentenced this past week to two years and seven months in prison on charges of insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council. The court also imposed a political ban that could lead to his removal from office.

Imamoglu, who belongs to the main opposition Republican People’s Party, is expected to appeal the verdict, according to the report.

Critics alleged the mayor's trial was an attempt to eliminate a key opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in June.

Erdogan, however, insisted he had no hand in the verdict.

"What is behind the storm sparked by a verdict these past few days? This debate has nothing to do with us -- neither with me nor with our nation," Erdogan said Saturday, in his first comments on the subject since Wednesday's verdict.

"We laugh at all the false words uttered so surely" by those seeing a political maneuver in the sentence, he added.

"But we are sad to see that some are trying to conduct their games of thrones through us," the president continued, suggesting reactions to the verdict resulted from rivalries within the opposition.

Several tens of thousands of people demonstrated their backing on Thursday in Istanbul for Imamoglu, and his conviction has been met with international criticism.

The United States declared itself "deeply troubled and disappointed" with his two years and seven months' jail term and associated ban from political activity, set to deny him a tilt at the presidency.

Germany, meanwhile, hit out at a "harsh blow for democracy".

Turkey has become notorious for its attempts to silence critics of Erdogan and has seen spiraling numbers of journalists, bloggers, and ordinary people - even schoolchildren - being taken to court on charges of insulting the President and other top officials.

Examples include a 17-year-old teen who was charged with "insulting" Erdogan on Facebook, a Turkish philosophy professor who was accused of insulting Erdogan in an article in which he accused the president of corruption, and even the former Miss Turkey who was prosecuted for social media posts deemed to be critical of Erdogan.

In December of 2016, the head of a cafeteria at a Turkish opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper was detained for insulting Erdogan after saying he would refuse to serve him tea.

Erdogan in 2015 filed a criminal complaint against the Cumhuriyet newspaper and its editor for publishing images allegedly showing trucks belonging to the state intelligence service helping send weapons to rebels in Syria.

Turkey also regularly blocks access to websites and has in recent years tightened government control of the Internet and the judiciary, generating criticism from rights groups.