The founder and CEO of GEM TV, Saeed Karimian, and a Kuwaiti business associate were driving in Istanbul’s Maslak neighborhood on Saturday, when their car was blocked by a Jeep and shots were fired, according to Turkey’s Dogan news agency. Karimian was found dead by emergency services arriving at the scene. His associate, who has not been named, later died at the hospital. Turkish police are currently investigating, but have not released any new details.
The network confirmed on its Facebook page that Karimian had died, but didn’t give any details. What is known, according to various news agencies, is that two masked shooters got out of a Jeep before opening fire. The Jeep was later found abandoned and burned. Initial police findings have indicated that the shooting may have been prompted by a financial disagreement, according to the mayor of Istanbul’s Sariyer district.
GEM TV is known for entertainment satellite channels that dub foreign films and western programs into Farsi for Iranians. It also produces movies and TV series. Yet, in Iran, the regime’s attempts to instill Islamic values by strictly regulating popular culture, the satellite broadcaster’s programming has angered authorities, who view the channel as part of a cultural “soft war” being waged by the West. While satellite television is popular in Iran, owning a satellite dish is illegal. Police and security forces occasionally smash dishes and seize receivers as part of a larger campaign to denounce western pop culture as decadent and un-Islamic.
Last year, a Revolutionary court in Tehran tried Karmian in absentia and sentenced him to six years in jail on charges of “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the state”. Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, considered to be close to the country’s hardline paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, has described GEM as an opposition network and noted that Karimian had been given a prison sentence for “propaganda”, but didn’t elaborate any further.
Family members told the BBC’s Jiyar Gol that Mr. Karimian had been threatened by the regime for the past three months, and as a result, was planning to leave Istanbul and move back to London. However, sources within the Turkish government have suggested that the killings may have been related to business and gangs.
GEM Group was initially established in London, but later expanded to Dubai. According to its website, it has 17 Persian-language channels, plus one each in Kurdish, Azeri, and Arabic. The group has been on a large expansion offensive, recently adding several new channels and recruiting Iranian artists and staff from inside and abroad.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a Paris-based political group claimed the shooting was an “assassination” carried out by the Iranian regime, adding that Tehran wanted to attribute it to the PMOI. The Iranian Resistance called for the prosecution of the perpetrators and masterminds of this hideous crime, bringing them to justice, and blacklisting the IRGC.
In a press statement released by Kuwait’s Consul General Mohammad Al-Mohammad, the Consulate in Istanbul is closely monitoring and following up on investigations on the killing of the Kuwaiti citizen, and making the necessary arrangements for his body to be returned to his family in Kuwait.