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TURKEY requested on Tuesday that interpol issue a Red Notice on Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter, accusing him of being part of a terrorist organisation.
Kanter refused to travel with the Knicks for tomorrow’s game at the O2 Arena against the Washington Wizard as he feared he would be assassinated for his opposition to authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kanter has been accused of having a close relationship with exiled US-based Islamist Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, a standard tactic Erdogan uses against any high-profile figure in opposition of him.
The Turkish government has now stepped up its attempt to secure Kanter’s extradition from the US, having revoked his passport in 2017 and issuing an international warrant for his arrest. A Turkish prosecutor requested the 26-year-old Swiss-born player be jailed for four years.
Kanter, writing in the Washington Post prior to tonight’s game, said that he “can’t risk travelling overseas” where Erdogan “hunts down anyone who opposes him.”
He wrote: “‘Keep calm and play ball.’ That’s what some people tell me when I use my National Basketball Association platform to speak out against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, the place I grew up and where my family still lives. The advice I prefer comes from Colin Kaepernick’s Nike ad campaign: ‘Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.’
“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. Erdogan uses Interpol, the international law enforcement organisation with 194 member nations, as a tool to have his critics arrested in other countries. I do not yet have US citizenship or a US passport, which could offer me protection, so I can’t risk traveling overseas.
“Even if I did, I wouldn’t travel this week to Britain, where 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.
“The situation in Turkey has been very bad since a failed coup attempt in 2016. Erdogan unleashed a massive purge, firing more than 100,000 public-sector workers and imprisoning more than 50,000 people. These people are not criminals. They include judges, academics and journalists. Erdogan thinks free speech is dangerous, and he accuses critics of being terrorists.
“Anyone who speaks out against him is a target. I am definitely a target. And Erdogan wants me back in Turkey where he can silence me.”
Kanter revealed he gets death threats and is unable to walk around New York alone, in fear of his life, admitting he never realised how bad it would be to speak out against Erdogan.
“Erdogan is a strongman and I knew there would be a backlash for the things I’ve said about him and the Turkish government, but I didn’t know it would be like this. I receive many death threats. 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. I was unable to attend the Human Rights Foundation’s Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway last year for the same reason that I’m not going to London.
“Some of my teammates and coaches don’t understand what I’m doing by speaking out, but they support me, for which I am grateful. They have become part of my surrogate family here in the United States.
“My decision not to travel to London was difficult from a competitive standpoint but much easier from a safety one. It helps puts a spotlight on how a dictator is wrecking Turkey — people have been killed, thousands are unjustly imprisoned and countless lives have been ruined. That is no game.”
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