Iranian media group chief shot dead in Istanbul
ISTANBUL // The Iranian owner of a leading Persian-language media entertainment company based in Dubai was shot dead in Istanbul by unidentified gunmen along with his Kuwaiti business partner, Turkish media reported on Sunday.
Saeed Karimian, the founder and owner of GEM Group, which operates more than 20 satellite television channels aimed predominantly at Persian-speakers, was wanted in Iran after being tried in absentia last year for crimes against the state.
Karimian, who was also a British citizen, was travelling in a car with his associate on Saturday night in the upmarket Maslak district of Istanbul where GEM Group’s Istanbul offices are located, when he was cut off by another vehicle, Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported. Two masked gunmen emerged from the vehicle and opened fire on Karimian’s car, police and witnesses said. Karimian died at the scene, while his business partner died in hospital.
GEM Group confirmed Karimian’s death in a post on its Facebook page and had changed its profile picture to a black and white photograph of him, offering condolences to his family. However, it gave no further details surrounding his death and telephone calls to GEM Group by The National went unanswered.
Kuwait’s consul general said a Kuwaiti citizen had been shot dead late on Saturday in Istanbul, Kuwait’s official news agency, Kuna, reported, but gave no further details on the killing or of his identity.
Turkish police declined to comment on the incident when contacted by The National.
Hurriyet said the attackers managed to flee the scene and that the gunmen’s vehicle was later found burnt out by the side of the road in the nearby district of Kemerburgaz. A picture showed a completely burnt out white car on the hard shoulder cordoned off by police tape.
Video footage from Turkey’s Dogan news agency of the scene of the shooting showed what appeared to be Karimian’s vehicle, a black luxury car with the front windscreen covered in a white sheet and at least one bullet hole. A distraught woman can be seen sitting on the pavement in front of the car, while police detectives dressed in white suits investigate the surrounding area.
GEM Group was founded by Karimian in London in 2006 but later moved its headquarters to Dubai. It operates 24 satellite channels, including 21 Persian channels, as well as channels in Arabic, Azeri, and Kurdish, according to its website.
GEM TV was mostly known for dubbing foreign entertainment shows, including popular Turkish soaps and American game shows, and transmitting them in Iran, to the fury of the Iranian government which considered them to be subversive Western propaganda. The company has recently expanded, acquiring several new channels and recruiting Iranian artists and staff from inside and abroad.
Conservative Iranian media reports said Karimian had past connections to The People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI), an exiled opposition group which Tehran sees as a criminal network aiming to bring down the Iranian government.
The conservative Fars news agency alleged Karimian had spent eight years at PMOI’s base in Ashraf, Iraq, before going to Switzerland in 1996.
Last year, Karimian was tried in absentia by a revolutionary court in Tehran and sentenced to six years in prison on charges of “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the state,” according to Reuters.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a Paris-based political group which is regarded as the political wing of the PMOI, denounced the allegations against Karimian as a fabrication, accusing Iranian media of doctoring photographs.It claimed the shooting was an “assassination” carried out by the Iranian regime with the intention of blaming the PMOI.
In a tweet, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders called for an “impartial investigation into this horrendous crime”.
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse