Enes Kanter, after Turkish gov't issues arrest warrant: 'You can't catch me'

Dan Devine
Enes Kanter, seen through a video camera, speaks to the media during a news conference about his detention at a Romanian airport on May 22, 2017 in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
Enes Kanter, seen through a video camera, speaks to the media during a news conference about his detention at a Romanian airport on May 22, 2017 in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

The Turkish government issued a warrant for the arrest of Enes Kanter on Friday, terming the Oklahoma City Thunder center a “fugitive” and claiming that he is a member of a “terror group” intending to oust Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erodgan.

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The report came from Daily Sabah, a “pro-government newspaper” in Turkey, according to Agence France-Presse:

A judge issued the arrest warrant after an Istanbul prosecutor opened an investigation into Kanter’s alleged “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”, Sabah daily reported. […]

The arrest warrant refers to Kanter’s alleged use of an encrypted messaging application called Bylock, Sabah said, which Turkey claims was especially created for Gulen supporters.

It also referred to Kanter’s “praise for a terror organisation” in messages via his social media accounts, the daily reported.

The issuing of the warrant comes one week after the Turkish government canceled Kanter’s passport while he was traveling through Europe on a charity and promotional tour for his foundation. Kanter, who was born in Switzerland but raised in Turkey and is a Turkish citizen, has claimed that the revocation of his passport stems from his outspoken criticism of Erdogan.

The 25-year-old basketball player has referred to Turkey’s president as “a bad, bad man,” “a dictator” and “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” in Turkey.

Kanter is an avowed follower of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric adamantly opposed to Erdogan who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Two years ago, Kanter claimed he was left off Turkey’s national basketball team for the 2015 EuroBasket competition due to his support of Gulen; the team’s coach, Ergin Ataman, denied that.

Erdogan has accused Gulen of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Gulen has denied involvement. Kanter has said he believes Erdogan’s government was behind the coup attempt, and has used it a pretext to expand its powers and control in its aftermath.

As evidence, 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. During a recent visit to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Donald Trump, Erdogan’s security detail and Turkish officials “were caught on video punching and kicking protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington.”

Kanter received multiple death threats after the failed coup for his continued opposition to Erdogan’s administration and support of Gulen. Daily Sabah reported last summer that Kanter’s family had disowned him over his support for Gulen; shortly thereafter, Kanter released a statement in which he said he “would sacrifice my mother, father and whole family for Gulen’s sake.”

The cancellation of his traveling documents resulted in Kanter being detained 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, Kanter soon received help from a variety of sources — including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Thunder, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, and Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford — 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, despite not having a valid current passport, a Homeland Security official helped him enter the country.

After arriving safely on U.S. soil following an ordeal in which he claims he fled Indonesia in the middle of the night ahead of police forces dispatched by the Turkish government, Kanter embarked on a press tour to discuss his predicament and to speak out against Erdogan’s alleged abuses of power. Upon learning of the arrest warrant, Kanter promptly responded with defiance on social media:

“You can’t catch me. Don’t waste your breath,” Kanter wrote in Turkish on Twitter, according to a translation by Reuters. “I will come on my own will anyway, to spit on your ugly, hateful faces.”

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The arrest warrant “poses no immediate threat to Kanter,” according to Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann, because Turkish law enforcement officers don’t have the authority to serve the warrant while Kanter’s in the U.S. (or in Canada, were the Thunder to play the Toronto Raptors). Other problems could arise, however, should Turkey petition the U.S. to extradite Kanter, though the chances of him being sent back to Turkey in a timely fashion would appear to be relatively low. More from McCann:

Since 1981, Turkey and the U.S. have agreed to extradition terms that are expressed in their extradition treaty. In order to comply with the treaty, Turkey would need to explain the details of the charge, offer some evidence that Kanter is guilty and establish that Kanter’s alleged misconduct would constitute a crime in either country.

As the U.S.-Turkey extradition treaty makes clear, extradition shall not be granted when its purpose is “of a political character” or when the accompanying arrest has been made “on account of his political opinions.” It stands to reason that Kanter, an outspoken critic of the Turkish government, could offer a compelling argument that the arrest warrant is of a political character.

Further, any attempt to extradite Kanter would take months and possibly years. The request and accompanying materials would undergo a lengthy and thorough review by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Justice Department and potentially a federal magistrate judge. Kanter and his attorneys would be able to offer defenses along the way.

For the moment, however, Kanter remains a man without a country. He will continue to remain in the U.S. as a permanent resident with the green card he was reportedly issued in 2016, but will not become eligible for full U.S. citizenship until he’s been a permanent resident for five years (or three, if he marries as U.S. citizen). After returning to the U.S., he expressed interest in completing that process.

“When I am back in Oklahoma, a lot of people say, ‘Oh, welcome home,'” Kanter said, according to ESPN.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “I feel like this is my home now. I see all this support, teammates, senators and everybody was supporting [me]. I feel like this is my home now, definitely.”

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!