The Turkish government has officially filed for an Interpol “Red Notice,” a non-binding alert to member nations on a wanted criminal, against New York Knicks player Enes Kanter, Turkish state media confirmed Tuesday.
Kanter – who has condemned the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for years for silencing dissenting voices, persecuting journalists, and criminalizing followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen – published an opinion column in the Washington Post Tuesday predicting that Turkey would relentlessly pursue a Red Notice in his name because of his support for Gülen.
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) January 15, 2019
Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, is the leader of an Islamic movement called “Hizmet,” or “service,” and runs a global network of Muslim charter schools. Erdogan claims the charter schools are a front for what he calls the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization” (FETO) and has repeatedly demanded Gülen’s extradition. Multiple American administrations have rejected his demands, citing a lack of evidence against Gülen.
Erdogan accuses FETO of orchestrating the July 2016 failed coup d’etat against him, despite the fact that those who organized the coup identified themselves at the time as secularist soldiers.
Anadolu Agency, a Turkish state media outlet, reported on Tuesday that Interpol had received an official request to issue a Red Notice for Kanter due to “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.” The Istanbul prosecutor responsible for the application has also reportedly prepared a request for the United States to extradite Kanter for his alleged role in the 2016 failed coup.
Anadolu did not detail any evidence linking Kanter to the coup or to any recognized “terrorist organization.” Kanter is a vocal supporter of Gülen’s; the Turkish government has also not provided evidence that Gülen himself is involved in terrorist activity to the United States.
The request is not the first Kanter has faced. In 2016, shortly following the failed coup – and when Kanter was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder – the Turkish government announced it had filed for a Red Notice against the basketball player. The incident followed Turkey’s suspension of Kanter’s license, which occurred as the player visited Indonesia and attempted to travel home upon receiving word that Indonesian authorities sought to arrest him as per a request from Turkey. Kanter was trapped in a Romanian airport for some hours, the product of his canceled passport before the United States intervened to bring him back.
The fact that the Turkish government announced Tuesday it would seek a Red Notice suggests that its first attempt to criminalize Kanter failed. There is evidence that Interpol has silently dismissed up to as many as 60,000 demands for Red Notices against supporters of Gülen. According to a 2017 report, the international coalition of law enforcement agencies was forced to lock Turkish officials out of the system to prevent them from flooding it with frivolous claims against Gulenists. Interpol denied that account but confirmed it had been forced to deny issuing Red Notices on multiple occasions requested by Turkey. Interpol strictly prohibits the use of its system to target political dissidents.
This week, Kanter announced he would not travel with the Knicks to London for an NBA international game because he feared that the United Kingdom had not sufficiently protected itself from Erdogan’s spies and could not guarantee his safety.
“Sadly, I’m not going because of that freaking lunatic, the Turkish president … There’s a chance that I can get killed out there,” Kanter told reporters.
His Tuesday Washington Post column expanded upon his concerns, explicitly mentioning the potential that Interpol would issue a Red Notice against him.
“On Thursday, I won’t be able to go to work when my team, the New York Knicks, plays the Washington Wizards in London. It is altogether too risky,” the column begins. “Erdogan uses Interpol, the international law-enforcement organization with 194 member nations, as a tool for having his critics arrested in other countries.”
As Kanter does not have U.S. citizenship, he writes, “I can’t risk traveling overseas.”
“Turkish prosecutors want to put me in jail for four years for insulting Erdogan on Twitter,” he notes. “Insulting the president” is a crime in Turkey and one that Erdogan has regularly used to file charges against regular Turkish citizens. Kanter writes not only that he fears a legal Turkish prosecution, but kidnapping and assassination, dismissing the U.K.’s ability to disarm any threats from Ankara.
“I easily could be kidnapped or killed by Turkish agents. Erdogan’s arms are long. He hunts down anyone who opposes him. In 2017, his security team — or thugs, as The Post’s editorial board described them — even beat up peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington,” Kanter notes.
Erdogan notably condemned the United States for prosecuting his security team for violating American law.
“What kind of law is this? If my bodyguards cannot protect me then why am I bringing them to America with me?” he asked at the time.
As the Turkish government has failed to silence Kanter, it has targeted his family. Last year, authorities indicted father Mehmet Kanter on charges of “membership in a terror group” for his association with his son, despite the younger Kanter stating publicly his family had disowned him in 2016.
“I lost my mother, father, my family and all of my relatives today. My own father asked me to change my surname. The mother who gave birth to me rejected me. My siblings, with whom I was raised with, ignore me. My relatives don’t want to see me anymore,” he wrote on Twitter that year.
Kanter went on to write, “My mother, father, siblings and all of my relatives can be sacrificed on Gülen’s way. I can give my head on his way. May God take from my life and give every second of it to my brave preacher.”