A presenter for the Islamic television network Akit TV has resigned after suggesting that the Turkish military should kill people living in secular neighborhoods.
Responding to claims that the Turkish military is killing innocent civilians as part of their “Operation Olive Branch” in Syria, an offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) umbrella network, Akit TV host Ahmet Keser said that Turkish forces should target secular neighborhoods first.
“If we [Turks] were to kill civilians, we would have started in Cihangir, Nişantaşı, and Etiler, wouldn’t we?” he said. “There are many traitors. There is the Turkish Parliament, too.”
The comments led to immediate outrage and sparked further concern about the attempts to shift the country from the Middle East’s only secular state into a theocracy.
Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) immediately condemned the comments. Spokesperson Mahir Ünal described them as “an open sabotage against Turkey’s unity which we [the AKP] would never accept or approve.”
“It is unacceptable and unexplainable,” Ünal said. “This is openly psychotic. A prosecutor’s office has initiated a criminal investigation into this individual who has made these comments. It is a provocation.”
“Who gave you the right to say such things? What do you mean you would start there? Who are you?” he asked.
In a statement on Wednesday, Akit TV said had “crossed the line” and confirmed that he had resigned from his position.
“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,” the network said in a statement. “Keser has resigned from his post in order to prevent people using his words as an excuse to attack this institution.”
Prosecutors in Istanbul are now filing charges against Keser for “inciting hatred and hostility among the public through media,” and seeking a prison sentence of up to four and a half years.
Turkey’s leading media watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), also ordered a fine of three percent of advertising revenue on the network.
Freedom of the press and the media has been a growing topic of concern in Turkey, as the Erdoğan government seeks to crack down on dissent following a failed attempted coup in 2016.
Over the course of 2017, Turkish authorities imprisoned the most journalist worldwide, surpassing the likes of China, Egypt, and Venezuela.