Ahmet Keser, the presenter for “Gün Başlıyor,” broadcast on the radical Islamist Akit TV channel, which is a staunch supporter of Turkey’s Islamist and autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has said: “If we had the intention of killing civilians, we would have started doing it in Cihangir, Nişantaşı, Etiler… Right? I mean there are lots of traitors, there is the Parliament…” in reaction to widespread claims that the Turkish military is killing civilians in an offensive in the Afrin region of northwestern Syria.
Cihangir, Nişantaşı and Etiler are among the predominantly dissident secular districts of İstanbul.
According to a report by Bianet, Keser said: “The army of the Republic of Turkey is killing civilians… Why would it? Why would the Turkish army be there if there were civilians? Why would the army of Turkey go there to kill civilians? If we had the intention of killing civilians, we would have started doing it in Cihangir, Nişantaşı, Etiler… Right? I mean there are lots of traitors, there is the Parliament…”
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Eren Erdem on Tuesday sued Akit TV executives and Keser over the incident.
Following the public outrage that erupted, Keser resigned and is facing criminal charges. “It is unacceptable and unexplainable. This is openly psychotic. A prosecutor’s office has initiated a criminal investigation into the individual who made these comments. It is a provocation,” ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Mahir Ünal said on Wednesday.
An İstanbul prosecutor reportedly launched an investigation into Keser on Tuesday on charges of “inciting hatred and animosity among the public,” “provocation” and “defamation.”
Ünal said such rhetoric was “open sabotage against Turkey’s unity that we [the AKP] would never accept or approve of.”
“Who gave you the right to say such things? What do you mean you would start there? Who are you?” the AKP spokesperson said.
Following the criticism, Akit TV announced Keser’s resignation and said his words “did not represent the channel’s views.”
“Our presenter Ahmet Keser’s words, which crossed the line after he tried to rightfully say that Turkish soldiers were not killing civilians, are not accepted by our channel. Keser has resigned from his job in order to prevent people from using his words as an excuse to attack this institution,” Akit TV said in a statement on Wednesday.
While reading out various newspapers’ headlines on the air, another Akit TV presenter, Yusuf Ozan, had referred to daily Cumhuriyet’s headline “11 Soldiers Killed in Afrin” as “dirt” and made anti-Semitic statements. Ozan used derogatory expressions claiming Cumhuriyet was conducting a “perception operation” and targeted and threatened the newspaper, saying, “In war, it is permissible to kill the likes of you.”
Ozan had stated: “You liked that there were 11 dead, you put this in the headline because you got excited thinking of the number. Oh, how I wish there was a one-man regime… So that he could shut you down in a second, and I wish there was Sharia law, I wish capital punishment was legal and that he would hang you all. I am being very frank, you are all traitors…”
Ozan went on to say that “you who hide behind the sword of democracy, the cover of democracy, you are the scourge of this country. You can get offended or make yourself hoarse saying whatever, I don’t care, but I wish there was capital punishment in this country. It should be off with your heads, you are traitors.”
“Forget about democracy, in war it is permissible to kill the likes of you. Granted, I am succumbing to my rage, but you truly have no honor. God damn you! You have no blood, no honor, no dignity, no integrity. You don’t have a trace of religion nor faith in you. You are the relics of an era. These are all crypto-Zionists. Whoever stages an operation on a country at such a time is a traitor,” said the Erdoğanist presenter.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 240 journalists and media workers were in jail as of February 22, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison, 205 were under arrest pending trial, while only 35 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 140 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.