Turkey has placed a bounty on former NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom. The Turkish-American basketball star has faced serious legal trouble in Turkey since vocalizing criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2013.
Turkish authorities are offering ten million Turkish Lira, which is roughly five hundred thousand dollars, in exchange for information that could lead to the capture of Freedom.
Freedom’s name appears on Turkey’s Terrorist Wanted List. Erdogan’s government has continued to clamp down on critics and dissidents since the attempted coup in 2016. Freedom became a citizen of the US in 2021, where he currently resides.
Turkey’s bounty on Enes Kanter Freedom
Freedom told the New York Post that he was worried about the price on his head. “That makes it so dangerous,” the former NBA player said. “Before the bounty, Turkish intelligence were after the people on the list, but now everyone is after them because they want the money.”
“Because of my platform, whenever I say something, it goes everywhere and the Turkish government hates that,” the basketball player continued. “They’re really sick of it, and they said ‘enough is enough’ and are doing whatever they can to shut me up.”
Human rights groups and NGOs have been critical of Turkey’s approach to freedom of speech since an attempted coup in 2016. Since then, Turkish authorities have imprisoned numerous journalists and other individuals deemed to be too critical of Erdogan’s government.
“The authoritarian and highly centralized presidential government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has set back Turkey’s human rights record by decades,” says Human Rights Watch.
Freedom has been an outspoken critic of the Erdogan government both on and off the basketball court. On one occasion, he said that the Turkish President is “the Hitler of our century” and called him a “dictator” on another occasion.
His outspoken criticism of the Turkish government has not come without personal cost to the NBA star. Even before Turkey placed the bounty on Freedom, his family came under heavy scrutiny during the 2016 to 2017 Turkish purges.
When Freedom expressed his support for Gülen shortly after the failed coup attempt, his family disowned him. Just a week later, his father was removed from his position at a Turkish university via a government decree numbered 272.
In 2019, Turkey put an extradition request on the basketball player and requested that Interpol place a red notice for his arrest. Interpol has seemingly not complied, however.
In November 2021, Enes Kanter gained US citizenship and changed his surname to “Freedom” to mark the event. The basketball player and activist retained Kanter as his middle name.
Freedom has said that the bounty and the ire of the Turkish government more generally have placed his life in danger, although he is also concerned about others who have been critical of the Turkish government.
“I’m being protected 24/7,” Freedom said. He is now in frequent contact with the FBI and lives in Washington D.C.
“I’m speaking out because I am not the only one on that list,” Freedom commented. “There are so many journalists, so many activists, and so many athletes, but they aren’t as well-known as me. They are way easier targets—and they’re alone out there.”