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The Turkish government is seeking at least a four-year prison term for New York Knicks center Enes Kanter because of insulting remarks he made about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Twitter in May and June 2016, according to the Associated Press. And, yes, this is the world we live in in 2017.
A Turkish judge issued an arrest warrant for Kanter in mid-May of this year, when an Istanbul-based prosecutor pointed to the 25-year-old’s social media account as evidence of his alleged “membership of an armed terrorist organization.” To which Kanter responded on Twitter: “You can’t catch me. Don’t waste your breath. I will come on my own will anyway, to spit on your ugly, hateful faces.”
Sports Illustrated legal expert Michael McCann argued then that the extradition of Kanter would be extremely unlikely, and therefore the arrest warrant posed little threat to him in the United States. According to the AP on Wednesday, he will be tried in absentia.
Kanter has been an outspoken critic of the Turkish president and a longtime supporter of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Islamic cleric who Erdogan blamed for orchestrating a failed coup attempt in 2016. Kanter evaded Turkey’s secret service during an Indonesian stop on his charitable foundation’s tour in May, only to be detained in a Romanian airport after Turkey canceled his passport. He soon returned stateside once high-ranking members of the U.S. government and NBA intervened on his behalf.
Kanter has received multiple death threats for his views on Erdogan. He also believes his criticism of the Turkish president led to him being left off the national team for the 2015 EuroBasket tournament.
Kanter, obviously, considered the Turkish government’s actions a response to his political views. As the events unfolded earlier this year, Kanter called Erdogan “the Hitler of our century” who “staged a fake coup then started genociding his opposites.” In an interview with Vice News following the arrest warrant, Kanter said he believes the Turkish government would kill him if he were imprisoned.
Turkish officials arrested Kanter’s father in what the NBA player believes was a warning this past June, even though his family had publicly disowned him for his political views and Kanter said he “would sacrifice my mother, my father and whole family for Gulen’s sake.” This is how strongly he opposes a president who the United Nations accused of creating an “environment conducive to torture” and whose rise has resulted in what the New York Times called “an almost untrammeled grip on power.”
“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 at the time of his father’s arrest, via ESPN. “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.”
A Turkish court ordered the supervised release of Kanter’s father on June 7. He has reportedly not spoken to his parents for more than a year and is unsure if he will ever be able to return to Turkey.
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