A Turkish news anchor, who has caused uproar with a remark about “killing civilians” in secular neighbourhoods of Istanbul, has resigned and risks prosecution.
In his morning show on national Akit TV on Tuesday, Ahmet Keser said he would start in the predominantly secular neighbourhoods of Istanbul and the Turkish parliament if he intended to kill what he called civilian “traitors”.
Keser made the controversial remark while criticising reports that civilians were being killed in Turkey’s ongoing offensive in northern Syria.
The resignation was announced by Akit TV on Wednesday, in a statement that said Keser’s “words went beyond the purpose”, adding that he quit to prevent “his institution from getting lynched because of his comments”.
Keser had said on his morning show: “[The claim is that] the army of the Republic of Turkey is killing civilians … Why would it? Why would the army of Turkey be there if there were civilians there? Why would the army of Turkey go there to kill civilians?
“If [we] had the intention to kill civilians, we would have started doing it from Cihangir, Nisantasi, Etiler, Right? I mean there are lots of traitors, there is the Turkish parliament.”
Cihangir, Nisantasi and Etiler are among Istanbul’s predominantly secular neighbourhoods, where critical sentiment against Turkey’s government remains high.
Keser’s words about Turkey’s parliament were apparently against the parties opposing the government.
Turkey’s army and officials have repeatedly denied that civilians have been killed in the operation in Afrin, which was launched in January against the Kurdish fighters, whom Turkey sees as “terrorists”.
Istanbul prosecutors have launched a criminal probe into the comments made by Keser, the Turkish media said.
The anchor’s comments also caused a stir on Turkish social media, with many condemning Keser for threatening parliament and secular Turks.
Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s senior adviser on Turkey, said there has been an increase in such rhetoric in the country, which he called “alarming.
“Everyone has a right to express their opinions, this is a fundamental right. But inciting to violence is something different and it is on the rise in Turkey. This is harmful for human rights and harmful for the society,” he told Al Jazeera.
He added that government officials should act responsibly by avoiding such statements themselves and refrain from encouraging others to use rhetoric inciting violence.
“There are laws preventing hate speech in Turkey. However, when we look at the issue of investigations and prosecutions in the country, we see that minority, opposition or alternative opinions – opinions not shared by the government – are prosecuted,” Gardner said.
Akit’s television and newspaper are known to make targets out of dissidents, be they politicians, activists, media outlets and journalists.
The newspaper last week used the word “degenerates” and “of bad stock” for Dutch politicians with Turkish ethnicity who reportedly voted for a bill to recognise the 1915 massacre of Armenians as “genocide” at the hands of the Ottomans.
Turkey denies the “genocide” claims, arguing that it was a collective tragedy in which people from both sides died.
Turkey – together with the Syrian opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group – last month launched an air and ground operation into Afrin in the northwest of Syria, to vanquish the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters near its border.
Turkey considers the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria and its armed wing YPG to be “terrorist groups” with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK has waged a decades-long armed fight against the Turkish state that has killed tens of thousands of people.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras