The Iranian founder of a Middle Eastern satellite television network accused of spreading Western culture was shot dead in Istanbul alongside a Kuwaiti business partner, Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported on Sunday.

Gunmen opened fire on Saeed Karimian, chairman of GEM TV, after cutting off his car with an SUV in Istanbul late Saturday night.

Karimian reportedly died immediately after the masked gunmen opened fire on the vehicle, while his business partner died later in a hospital.

Police later found the SUV abandoned and burned, the newspaper said.

GEM TV, which dubs foreign and Western shows into Persian and broadcasts them into Iran, had been criticized by Iran for showing programs which go against Islamic values.

Karimian’s company was established initially 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.

According to The Associated Press, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, considered to be close to the country’s hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, described GEM as an opposition network.

While satellite television is popular in Iran, owning a satellite dish is illegal. 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.

Karimian, 45, previously had been tried in absentia by a Tehran court and sentenced to six years in prison for spreading propaganda against Iran and the Islamic Republic.

Family members told the BBC’s Jiyar Gol that 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, sources within the Turkish government have suggested the killing may be related to business and gangs, according to the BBC.

Tasnim news agency also reported that both Karimian and his father had ties to the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. That Iranian exile group, known by the initials MEK, sided with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

In a statement, the MEK denied the Iranian claims that Karimian and his father had links to the group. The MEK blamed the Revolutionary Guard for the killings, noting they were carried out on the eve of a day honoring the Guard. It offered no other evidence to support the assertion.

The Associated Press and BBC contributed to this report.

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