WASHINGTON -- New York Knicks center Enes Kanter, staying home from an NBA game Thursday in London over safety fears, ripped Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a Washington Post column Tuesday.
Kanter, who says he receives death threats for his complaints against Erdogan, said he refused to join the Knicks on the trip to Britain for a game against the Washington Wizards because he worried Erdogan might have him kidnapped or killed.
"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," the 26-year-old Turkish standout wrote in an opinion essay on the newspaper's website.
Kanter says he is often told to "keep calm and play ball" rather than speak out against Erdogan, but said he prefers the philosophy of former NFL star Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the pre-game US anthem to protest racial inequality and social injustice.
"The advice I prefer comes from Colin Kaepernick's Nike ad campaign: 'Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,'" Kanter wrote.
Kanter said Erdogan uses global law-enforcement group Interpol "as a tool for having his critics arrested in other countries" and worried because he lacks US citizenship or a US passport.
"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," he wrote.
"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."
Kanter, 26, recounted being on the run from police in Indonesia and fearing he might be sent to Turkey when he arrived in Romania. After help from US lawmakers to get back into the United States, Kanter learned a Turkish arrest warranted for him had been issued.
"Turkish prosecutors want to put me in jail for four years for insulting Erdogan on Twitter. They claim I am a member of an 'armed terrorist organization,'" Kanter wrote.
"I was lucky. Turkish business executives, educators and others around the world have been kidnapped or detained, and then deported back to Turkey by governments eager to stay in Erdogan's good graces.
"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."
- 'Dictator is wrecking Turkey' -
Kanter said he skipped last year's Human Rights Foundation Freedom Forum in Oslo for reasons similar to those keeping him off the court this week in England.
"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," he wrote.
"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."
© Agence France-Presse
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