NBA pro and human rights activist Enes Kanter Freedom, was photographed stepping on a portrait photo of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the context of the Oslo Freedom Forum‘s “Step On Tyranny” campaign in Norway.
The human rights advocacy event saw visitors step on the photographs of other authoritarian leaders, from Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un to Nicolas Maduro and Ali Khamenei.
The symbolic move is considered particularly offensive in Islamic culture.
— Enes FREEDOM (@EnesFreedom) May 25, 2022
Enes Kanter’s feud with the Erdogan regime
NBA center Enes Kanter Freedom, born in Switzerland to Turkish parents; raised in Turkey; and eventually granted American citizenship in 2021, is equally famous for his human rights activism.
An outspoken critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, Kanter said he became publicly critical of Erdogan in 2013 due to the corruption scandal in Turkey. After the failed 2016 coup d’état attempt, Kanter criticized Turkish President Erdogan on Twitter, calling him the “Hitler of our century.”
Soon after the coup attempt in July, Kanter’s family publicly disowned him due to his political views and his support for Fethullah Gülen.
His father was dismissed from his university position a few weeks later via government decree, as part of the 2016–2017 Turkish purges, and charged as a member of a terrorist group in 2018. He was arrested and released after being detained for five days.
Enes Kanter had his Turkish passport revoked in 2017, and an arrest warrant was issued due to his membership in Hizmet, an Islamist fraternal movement. In September of that same year, Kanter described himself as stateless.
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon took up Kanter’s cause, stating “The United States must not stay silent in the face of such a blatant attack on free thought and expression.”
When the NBA player was granted his US citizenship, he changed his surname to Freedom, keeping Kanter as a middle name.
Effects of Kanter’s activism on his career
Kanter has played for five NBA teams since entering the league in 2011, and between 2008-2015 he represented the Turkish national team in international play.
Following his fallout with the Turkish authorities, however, Kanter’s NBA games have been censored in Turkey, and he’s had to forego international team trips because of the threat of arrest abroad.
It’s not only the Erdogan regime that Kanter has openly criticized, however.
In 2021, he condemned Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a “brutal dictator” and expressed his support for the Free Tibet movement on Twitter.
In retaliation, the Chinese government stopped streaming all Boston Celtics games.
Later that year, Kanter led a rally in Washington D.C., urging the US Congress to pass a law that would limit imports from areas where China has oppressed Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz minorities.
He has also advocated the boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games to be held in China.
After Kanter was waived out of his most recent contract with the Boston Celtics, he claimed he was pushed out of the NBA to appease the Chinese state. The claim was denied by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.