Enes Kanter said on Twitter on Friday afternoon that his father, Mehmet Kanter, had been arrested in Turkey. It is the latest development in an ongoing battle between the Oklahoma City Thunder center and a Turkish government he has openly and vigorously criticized.
“HEY WORLD,” Kanter wrote on Twitter. “MY DAD HAS BEEN ARRESTED by Turkish government and the Hitler of our century. He is potentially to get tortured as thousand others [sic].”
The 25-year-old basketball player has referred to Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “the Hitler of our century” over alleged human rights violations that have accompanied Erdogan’s rise to what the New York Times recently called “an almost untrammeled grip on power.” The United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, said Erdogan had created an “environment conducive to torture,” and that testimonies from inmates and their lawyers “suggest that in the days and weeks following the failed coup, torture and other forms of ill-treatment were widespread,” according to Jason Le Miere of Newsweek.
Turkish state-run media outlet Anadolu reported Friday that Mehmet Kanter has “has been detained in Turkey in an investigation targeting supporters of the cleric whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating last July’s failed coup, according to Daren Butler of Reuters. Enes Kanter is an avowed follower of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric opposed to Erdogan who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s. What Gulen wants, represents and promotes is a matter of some debate, as detailed by Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report.
Erdogan has accused Gulen of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Gulen has denied involvement. Enes Kanter has said he believes Erdogan’s government was behind the coup attempt, using it a pretext to consolidate its power. As evidence, Enes Kanter points to the post-coup expansion of rule by decree and recent declaration of state of emergency that have allowed Erdogan “to jail more than 40,000 people […], fire or suspend more than 140,000 additional people, shut down about 1,500 civil groups, arrest at least 120 journalists and close more than 150 news media outlets,” according to the Times.
The six-year NBA veteran released a more extensive statement “on [his] father’s politically motivated arrest” on his personal website on Friday afternoon.
“I woke this morning to the news of my father being arrested by the Turkish government,” he wrote. “The police raided our home in Istanbul, something that is happening to many innocent families across Turkey just because they are members of Hizmet, inspired by Scholar Fethullah Gulen. Hizmet today is a transnational social initiative that advocates for the ideals of human rights, equal opportunity, democracy, non-violence and the emphatic acceptance of religious and cultural diversity.
“My father is arrested because of my outspoken criticism of the ruling party,” Enes Kanter continued. “He may get tortured for simply being my family member […] 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. Freedom of expression is a basic human right, and I ask the WORLD to join me in seeking justice and equality for all and to reject oppressive regimes and dictatorships.”
The pro-government Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah reported last summer that Enes Kanter’s family had disowned him over his support for Gulen. The paper published a letter signed by Mehmet Kanter that read, “I apologize to the Turkish people and the president for having such a son.” Enes Kanter later released a statement saying he “would sacrifice my mother, father and whole family for Gulen’s sake.”
Enes Kanter received multiple death threats after the failed coup for his continued opposition to Erdogan’s administration and support of Gulen. Last month, the Turkish government canceled his passport while he was traveling through Europe on a charity and promotional tour.
Enes Kanter, who was born in Switzerland but raised in Turkey and is a Turkish citizen, claims he’s been targeted over his criticism of Erdogan. He said he had to flee Indonesia under cover of night because “the secret service of Indonesia and army [were] looking for me, because the Turkish government told them that I’m a dangerous man.”
After the cancellation of his traveling documents, authorities detained Enes Kanter for several hours in an airport in Romania. After a video posted to his Twitter account explaining his situation began to draw widespread attention online, he soon received help from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Thunder, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, and Oklahoma’s senators, who worked to ensure he’d be able to return to the U.S. Eventually, he was able to fly to London, and then to New York, where a Homeland Security official helped him enter the country.
Last week, Turkish media reported that the Erdogan government had issued a warrant for Enes Kanter’s arrest, terming him a “fugitive” and claiming he is a member of a “terror group.” He responded defiantly via social media, writing in Turkish, “You can’t catch me. Don’t waste your breath.”
After returning to the U.S., Enes Kanter said he has not spoken to his family in more than two years.
“Right now, even if I try to communicate with my parents, my mom or dad or brother or sister, [the government] will probably listen to their phones and as soon as they are in contact with me, they will put them in a jail — and the jails are not fun,” Kanter said, according to ESPN.com’s Royce Young. “Right now, my family can’t even go out to eat. My brother told me that my dad went to the supermarket and they spit on his face.”
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