Enes Kanter, a centre for the New York Knicks, did not play yesterday in London. Turkish prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest as a member of an "armed terrorist group". For Ankara he belongs to a network of Gülen supporters. The player slams the Turkish president for hunting down and arresting those who criticise him.
Ankara (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Enes Kanter, a Turkish professional basketball player for the New York Knicks in the US-based National Basketball Association (NBA), has refused to play a match outside the United States that he might be arrested (or killed) by Turkish agents.
Kanter’s fears are grounded in an extradition request filed by Turkish prosecutors, who want to try him over alleged links with Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic preacher accused of masterminding the July 2016 coup in Turkey.
Instead of playing in London with his team against the Washington Wizards yesterday, he remained in the United States for security reasons.
In a long article published in the Washington Post, Kanter said he received death threats for his criticism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kanter, who plays at the centre position, said he skipped last year's Human Rights Foundation Freedom Forum in Oslo for security reasons as well.
"I receive many death threats,” he writes. “I used to love walking around New York City alone, but I can't do that anymore. My friends and family in Turkey could be arrested just for talking to me".
"Anyone who speaks out against him [Erdogan] is a target. I am definitely a target. And Erdogan wants me back in Turkey where he can silence me," the 26-year-old Turkish standout explained.
Kanter also says he has been repeatedly advised not to speak out and stop criticising Turkish leaders; however, he found inspiration in former National Football League (NFL) star Colin Kaepernick who began kneeling during the pre-game US anthem to protest racial inequality and social injustice.
For the Knicks player, President Erdogan uses global law-enforcement group Interpol "as a tool for having his critics arrested in other countries".
As a US green card holder, Kanter can live and work in the country on a permanent basis, but he is worried because he lacks US citizenship or a US passport. This means he could be sent back to Turkey.
"I can't risk travelling overseas. Even if I did, I wouldn't travel this week to Britain, where I easily could be kidnapped or killed by Turkish agents," he writes.
Kanter was indicted by a Turkish court last year over alleged membership in an “armed terrorist group” after being contacted repeatedly by people close to Islamic preacher.
Turkish prosecutors issued a “red notice” for Kanter, an Interpol request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition, for using social media to show support for Gülen.
The basketball star rejects the accusations against him. Noting Turkey’s current "tough situation” and the ongoing purges, he writes that “Erdogan thinks free speech is dangerous, and he accuses critics of being terrorists."
Since the failed coup in mid-July 2016, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power was threatened , the Turkish government has pursued a witch hunt against hundreds of thousands of people – soldiers, judges, teachers, intellectuals, ordinary people – accused of association with Fethullah Gülen. The latter lives in exile in Pennsylvania (United States).