Persian satellite TV channel owner 'shot dead in Istanbul'

ISTANBUL (AFP) - The owner of a leading Persian-language satellite entertainment channel was shot dead by unknown individuals in Istanbul along with another man, Turkish media reports said on Sunday (April 30).

Mr Said Karimian, the owner of the GEM TV Group and a British citizen of Iranian origin, was gunned down late on Saturday along with a Kuwaiti business partner in the upscale Maslak district of Istanbul, the Hurriyet newspaper said.

Initial reports on Saturday had said two Iranians had been killed, without giving the identities.

In a statement on its Facebook page, GEM TV confirmed that Mr Karimian had died but without making clear the circumstances of the death.

"With great sorrow and regret we announce the death of Said Karimian," it said, describing him as a "great man who with a pure and kind spirit spent his life with honesty and sincerity for the dignity of Iran".

Kuwait's state-run KUNA news agency quoted the Kuwaiti consul general in Istanbul as saying that a Kuwaiti citizen was shot and killed in Istanbul late on Saturday.

Turkey's Dogan news agency said that the two men were shot dead while driving in the Maslak area by individuals in another vehicle who blocked the path of their car, got out, and gunned them down.

The assailants got away in their vehicle which was then found burned out in the Istanbul district of Kemerburgaz. Police are still trying to find them, Dogan said.

Based in Dubai, GEM TV offers Western programmes to Persian-speaking audiences that are not available in the Islamic Republic, including US game shows and Turkish soaps.

It is regarded with disdain by Teheran, which sees such satellite channels as trying to culturally infiltrate the population and Westernise their lifestyle.

The group has been on a large expansion offensive, recently adding several new channels and recruiting Iranian artists and staff from inside and abroad.

Conservative Iranian media reports meanwhile said Mr Karimian was linked in the past to The People's Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI), an exiled opposition group which Teheran sees as a criminal network aiming to bring down the Iranian government.

The judiciary's Mizanonline agency said Mr Karimian had gone to the PMOI's Ashraf base inside Iraq at the end of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

The conservative Fars news agency alleged Mr Karimian had spent eight years at Ashraf before going to Switzerland in 1996.