Turkish Government Threatens New York Knicks Player With 4 Years In Prison

Enes Kanter promises he won’t back down.

New York Knicks center Enes Kanter. Photo by Seth Wenig/AP.

New York Knicks center Enes Kanter won’t back down. The Turkish basketball player has been exiled from both his country and his family after calling out Turkey’s dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for his history of repression and brutal human rights violations, describing him as “the Hitler of our century.”

Recently, Turkish prosecutors announced they would seek a four-year prison sentence for Kanter in response to a series of comments posted on social media that were critical of Erdoğan. Previously, Kanter was detained at an airport in Romania and had his passport seized. An arrest warrant was issued a week later.

Thanks to the efforts of the U.S. State Department and the NBA, he was released shortly afterward. After learning of the latest attempt by Turkey to curb his criticisms, he was nonplussed.

“That’s it? Only four years?” he told reporters. “All the trash I’ve been talking?”

Joking indifference aside, Kanter, who has supported Fethullah Gülen, the exiled Muslim cleric that the Erdoğan regime blames for a failed 2016 coup, Kanter remained firm in his political beliefs.

“I’ve said this before, that dude is [a] maniac,” Kanter said. “Think about it. I mean, America, you’ve got freedom of speech — or you had. You’ve got freedom of speech. You’ve got freedom of whatever you want to say. I mean, it’s a free country.”

“But it’s not like that in Turkey,” he continued. “You cannot criticize or you cannot even say nothing bad about the dude, Erdoğan. Just like say he’s a bad guy, and you’re in a prison. It’s politics. People can choose or say whatever they want to say. I think right now the situation there is pretty messed up.”

Erdoğan spent 2017 consolidating his powers. An April referendum reformed the Turkish constitution, removing any checks on his presidency. Erdoğan attempted to rebut the notion that he was reducing the government to a dictatorship, telling CNN, “I am a mortal really, I could die at any time.”

In the months that have followed the attempt to topple the Erdoğan regime, the government has arrested at least 47,155 people and detained 113,000, charging them with terrorism-related activities and connections to the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ). Authorities claimed Kanter was working in concert with the FETÖ, citing his social media presence and public comments as evidence.

Kanter’s commitment to political and social justice has also impacted his family. He has not been able to contact his father, Mehmet Kanter, since 2015, who was forced to issue a statement disowning his son. “I apologize to the Turkish people and the president for having such a son,” Mehmet said. “His statements and behavior trouble our family. I told Enes that we would disown him should he not change his course. He did not care.”

But the idea that Mehmet and other members of Kanter’s family were acting of their own volition were called into question after Mehmet was arrested and possibly subject to torture, not so much for his own politics or actions but as a way to further harm him, Kanter explained. Via ESPN:

"My father is arrested because of my outspoken criticism of the ruling party. He may get tortured for simply being my family member," Kanter said. "For a second please think and imagine, if something like this is happening to an NBA player, what is happening to the people with no voice or podium to speak on? There could be hundreds of thousands of people that are detained, tortured, or murdered that we are not hearing about."

Mehmet was released after one day but is still subject to government surveillance.

Given the threat faced by dissidents in Turkey, Kanter realizes that an arrest warrant that will never be served can’t deter him from speaking out.

“The only thing you can do is just pray for all these innocent people in Turkey,” he said. “People don't understand. They're saying your family is still back in Turkey — why are you doing all of this? Why are you talking? I'm just trying to be the voice of all of these innocent people, man. Because all of these innocent people are just going through really tough times. Journalists, innocent people in jail getting tortured and killed and kidnapped. And it's pretty messed up.”

Kanter hopes that by concentrating on his career in basketball, he can show that he will not be silenced or cowed. “If we make playoffs then that will drive him crazy, so that’s what I’m really focused on right now, just make the playoffs and drive this dude crazy,” he said.

And while Erdoğan may or may not be tracking the latest boxscores, Turkish citizens don’t have the same right: Unlike the rest of the NBA, Knicks games in Turkey are being blacked out.

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