The founder and CEO of Iran's satellite TV network Gem TV, Saeed Karimian, 45, who in 2016 was tried in absentia and sentenced to six years in prison by a Tehran court for "spreading propaganda against Iran", was shot dead in Istanbul.
According to Dogan News, Karimian - identified by Hurriyet as a British national - and a Kuwaiti business partner were driving in Istanbul's Maslak neighborhood after 8 p.m. (1.00 p.m. ET) on Saturday when their car was blocked by a jeep and shots were fired. Karimian died immediately after the gunmen - who were reportedly masked - opened fire on the vehicle. As Reuters adds, Karimian was found dead by emergency services arriving at the scene while his associate was taken to a hospital where he too passed away.
Two masked shooters got out of the jeep before opening fire, Hurriyet said. The jeep was later found abandoned and burned. Turkey's Dogan news quoted the mayor of Istanbul's Sariyer district as saying initial police findings suggested the shooting may have prompted by a financial disagreement involving Karimian.
In a statement on its Facebook page, GEM TV confirmed Karimian had died but without making clear the circumstances of the death.
GEM TV is known for entertainment satellite channels that dub foreign films and western programmes into Farsi for Iranians. It also produces movies and TV series. It has been criticized by Iran for showing programmes which go against Islamic values and has been accused the channel of spreading Western culture. As Reuters notes, "the satellite broadcaster's programing has angered authorities, who view it as part of a cultural "soft war" waged by the West."
While satellite television is popular in Iran, owning a satellite dish is illegal the Guardian adds. Police and security forces occasionally smash dishes and seize receivers as authorities routinely denounce the western pop culture shown on satellite channels as decadent and un-Islamic.
Last year a Revolutionary Court in Tehran tried Karimian in absentia and sentenced him to six years in jail on charges of "acting against national security" and "propaganda against the state".
Family members told the BBC's Jiyar Gol that Mr Karimian had been threatened by the regime the past three months, and as a result was planning to leave Istanbul and move back to London. However, BBC sources have suggested the killing may be related to business and gangs.
Gem Group was initially established in London, but later expanded to Dubai. According to the group's website, it has 17 Persian-language channels, plus one each in Kurdish, Azeri and Arabic. Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, considered to be close to the country’s hardline paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, described GEM as an opposition network and said Karimian had been given a prison sentence for “propaganda”, without elaborating.
The assassination took place on the same day that Turkish president Erdogan - now with virtually unlimited executive powers following the recent constitutional referendum - blocked Wikipedia, banned TV dating shows, and purged another 4,000 state workers for their "affiliation" with the Turkish "shadow state" alleged controlled from rural Pennsylvania by the 76-year-old cleric Fethullah Gulen.