Turkey turns off independent TV channel on 'terrorist' charge

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An independent Turkish broadcaster was pulled off the air on Friday over allegations of “spreading terrorist propaganda”, its general coordinator said, adding to fears of a government cracking down on the media.

Turkey’s satellite provider Turksat halted broadcasts of IMC TV at the request of an Ankara prosecutor investigating whether the channel supported a “terrorist” group, Eyup Burc said.

“In Turkey, everything contrary to the official view is tossed into the terrorism bag,” Burc told Reuters, denying any ties with terrorist networks.

“This was clearly a political decision. The prosecutor has no legal right to seek our closure based on an allegation.”

No one was available at Turksat to comment.

The plug was pulled on IMC mid-broadcast during a live interview with Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, two prominent journalists who were freed pending trial earlier on Friday after spending 92 days in prison.

The two editors from the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet still face lifetime prison sentences for the publication of video footage purporting to show the state intelligence agency helping send weapons to Syria.

“This was done deliberately, to send a message to the media: that Can Dundar and Erdem Gul may have been released due to the public outcry, but that doesn’t mean the government is retreating from its course,” Burc said.

The European Union, engaged in delicate bargaining with Turkey in which it is offering the prospect of EU membership in return for Turkish help in stemming the flow of irregular migrants to Europe, had welcomed the journalists’ release.

In a statement, it said the liberation of Dundar and Gul was a necessary step and called for the dropping of all charges.

Istanbul-based IMC devotes much of its coverage to the Kurdish conflict, in which hundreds of civilians, militants and members of the security force have been killed since clashes erupted in July, wrecking a 2-1/2-year ceasefire in a three-decade insurgency.

It also covers other social issues, such as environmental protests, or speeches by opposition politicians that other media are loath to carry.

Burc said IMC would continue its programming on its website while seeking legal recourse to resuming its broadcasts.

Turkish authorities last year took over newspapers and television channels affiliated with a religious movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, President Tayyip Erdogan’s former ally until police linked with Gulen leaked a corruption probe into the then-prime minister’s family and close circle.

Gulen has been charged over alleged “terrorist” activities.

Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; Editing by Daren Butler/Ruth Pitchford