National Basketball Association (NBA) player Enes Kanter declared Thursday that he will continue criticizing the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his family homeland of Turkey, despite the Turkish government issuing “nine arrest warrants” against him for “standing up for human rights, freedom, and political prisoners who are getting tortured.”
“Hey, Erdogan — I don’t care if it’s nine or 9,000, I’m not giving up,” Kanter said on Twitter.
Unbelievable!#DictatorErdogan regime issued 9 arrest warrants for me.
The reason behind it is me standing up for Human Rights, Freedom and Political Prisoners who are getting tortured.
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) August 5, 2021
The Nordic Research Monitoring Network (NRMN), the group cited in Kanter’s tweet, said Wednesday it has obtained official documents from Turkish prosecutors dated July 2021 that described six active arrest warrants for Enes Kanter on charges of “defaming President Erdogan” (a crime under his authoritarian regime) plus three on “terrorism” charges.
One of the warrants was sworn by an Istanbul court at the urging of Hidayet Turkoglu, a top Erdogan advisor who was himself an NBA basketball player until he was suspended in 2013 for violating the association’s anti-drug policy by testing positive for a steroid called methenolone. Turkoglu is currently president of the Turkish Basketball Federation.
NRMN said the nine warrants against Kanter are “part of an intimidation campaign to stifle dissent, suppress opposition voices and crack down on freedom of expression.”
Kanter, born in Switzerland to Turkish parents, is a persistent critic of Erdogan and dedicated supporter of the Turkish president’s nemesis, exiled imam and Pennsylvania resident Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan claims Gülen masterminded the 2016 coup attempt against him and has unsuccessfully demanded Gülen’s extradition from the United States ever since.
Kanter frequently blasts Erdogan for arresting thousands of members of Gülen’s Hizmet group, which the Turkish government refers to as the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), on flimsy charges and abusing them while in prison. The Turkish government has fired many thousands more from civil service jobs or military positions because they supposedly backed the coup attempt.
Kanter routinely refers to Erodgan as a “dictator” and has compared him to Adolf Hitler.
Turkey canceled Kanter’s passport in May 2017, evidently without warning, while he was on a trip to Romania, resulting in his brief detention by airport police. Kanter made it back to the United States with help from the U.S. State Department and members of Congress. Kanter later said he was only in Romania because he had to flee from Indonesian police officers that the Turkish government had dispatched to kidnap him.
In 2019, Turkey requested a “red notice” against Kanter on terrorism charges from INTERPOL, which could potentially get him arrested by member states of the international police organization.
“The only thing I terrorize is the basketball rim,” Kanter responded.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2019 when Kanter played for the Portland Trail Blazers against the Toronto Raptors in the NBA finals, asking for assurances that Kanter would be given “safe passage” and Trudeau’s government would refuse to comply with “any Interpol red notice meant to interfere with Mr. Kanter’s livelihood and to intimidate him and his family back in Turkey.”
The Canadian government gave Kanter assurances he could travel safely across the border. The NBA player has been reluctant to travel to other countries because he fears for his liberty, or even his personal safety, in the case of destinations with a heavy population of Turkish immigrants loyal to the Erdogan regime.
Kanter’s father Mehmet, a genetics professor at Istanbul University, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2018 for supporting Gülen. The younger Kanter accused the government of persecuting his father as a way to get at him, mournfully noting in January 2021 that he has not seen his father in person for seven years due to the political situation.
Mehmet Kanter was acquitted of the charges against him in June 2020.
“Wow! I could cry,” Enes Kanter responded. “Today I found out that seven years after arresting my dad, taking him through a kangaroo court and accusing him of being a criminal just because he is my dad, my dad has been released.”
The Turkish government is known to have prepared both arrest warrants and extradition papers for Kanter at least two years ago on terrorism charges. Kanter denounced Turkish prosecutors by claiming they “can not present a single piece of evidence of my wrongdoing” and noting he does not even “have a parking ticket in the U.S.” He believes he will be quickly killed if he ever falls into the custody of the Erdogan regime.
Kanter announced Wednesday he is leaving the Portland Trail Blazers after playing with them for a year and rejoining the Boston Celtics, where he played during the 2019-2020 season. It was the second time Kanter moved from Portland to Boston in the past two years, prompting him to give a cheeky farewell to Trail Blazers fans: “Thanks Rip City. (See y’all probably next year.)”