Two days after being detained in Romania when authorities in his home nation of Turkey “canceled” his passport, Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter was back in the United States on Monday, speaking with media members about the harrowing ordeal that has left him “country-less.”
Kanter arrived back in the U.S. on Sunday night after being prevented from entering Romania on Saturday due to the revocation of his passport, which the 6-foot-11 center claims stems from his outspoken criticism of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“They said they canceled my passport by Turkish embassy,” Kanter said in a video message posted to his Twitter account. “They’ve been holding us here for hours by these two police. You know, the reason behind it is just of course my political views. And the guy who did it is Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey. He’s a bad, bad man. He’s a dictator. And he’s the Hitler of our century.”
Romania’s foreign minister said Sunday that his nation’s officials had no choice but to hold Kanter, who had been traveling in Indonesia as part of a tour for his foundation, at Henri Coanda Airport on Saturday.
“My colleagues established that his travel documents weren’t valid, that they had been canceled by his home country, so he wasn’t allowed to enter the country,” Romanian border police spokesman Fabian Badila told Benjamin Hoffman of the New York Times on Sunday. “At around 5 p.m., he left the airport on a flight to London. While he was at the airport, he wasn’t detained or locked up; he was allowed to wander around, but he couldn’t enter the country.”
As Kanter said during an in-studio appearance in New York on “CBS This Morning” on Monday, though, the issues “actually started in Indonesia.”
“I remember, I was sleeping around 2, 2:30 or something, and my manager knocked on my door and said the secret service of Indonesia and army was looking for me, because the Turkish government told them that I’m a dangerous man,” said Kanter, who was born in Switzerland but raised in Turkey and is a Turkish citizen. “So we didn’t know what to do. That’s why we had to kind of escape the country, and went to Singapore. Then we came to Romania, and that’s when [the craziness] started.”
Hadis Fetic, Kanter’s executive assistant, told Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman on Saturday that Erdogan’s government “has been known to report citizens’ passports as stolen or missing in order to have them confiscated in foreign countries,” opening the door for those citizens to be deported back to Turkey. For someone like Kanter, who has openly referred to Erdogan as “the Hitler of our century” for the alleged human rights violations that have accompanied his rise to what the Times called “an almost untrammeled grip on power” in Turkey, such a return trip could pose serious risks.
“If they sent me back to Turkey, probably you guys wouldn’t hear a word from me the second day,” Kanter said at a Monday press conference in New York, according to Gina Cherelus of Reuters.
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 received multiple death threats after the failed coup for his continued opposition to Erdogan’s administration and support of Gulen. Kanter told CBS on Monday that he’s “getting death threats almost every day, still, and I believe that when I leave this set, when I leave this room, I’m going to keep getting the death threats. But you know what? I stand with what I believe.”
Kanter claims that Erdogan’s government was behind the coup attempt and has used it a pretext to expand its powers and control in its aftermath.
“I call it the fake coup attempt,” Kanter said Monday, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. “Last year, they did a fake coup attempt themselves, so they can control everything. So right now, the Erdogan government is controlling the army, controlling the police, controlling judges, controlling journalists, everything.”
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.
“I’m [in] front of people’s eyes. That’s why people know my story,” Kanter told CBS. “But there are thousands of people [who] are in a jail. There is 17,000 women — pregnant, not pregnant — in jail, getting tortured, getting raped, it’s reported by Amnesty International. So that’s what I’m trying to be — the outspoken, and trying to be the voice of the innocent people.”
— AmnestyInternational (@amnestyusa) May 22, 2017
Kanter said Monday that after his video message from the Bucharest airport began to gain widespread attention online, he 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.
What comes next for the six-year veteran remains unclear. For his part, Kanter hopes to be able to become a U.S. citizen as soon as possible, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com:
“Right now I am country-less,” Kanter said at the NBA Players Association headquarters in Manhattan. “I am open to adoption definitely. I am going to try to become an American citizen. I have a green card. We will see if they can speed up the process a little bit. It would definitely be nice. Right now my next move is becoming an American citizen.” […]
In the meantime, Kanter will not travel internationally and hopes the Thunder and the NBA will be able to help him gain clearance to travel to Canada next season when the Thunder play the [Toronto] Raptors.
“I have my green card [from] last year,” Kanter said of gaining U.S. citizenship. “The process takes five years. I think I have another three and a half, four more years but I am going to try to speed up the process.”
“When I am back in Oklahoma, a lot of people say, ‘Oh, welcome home,'” Kanter added with a smile. “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.”
Now, and for the foreseeable future.
“I love my country,” Kanter said when asked during his CBS interview about the prospect of returning to Turkey. “One day I would definitely want to go back to my country. But right now, my life is in danger. My family’s lives are in danger. I can’t even communicate with my family because, if [the government] knows they’re communicating with me, they’ll be in a jail.”
— Outside The Lines (@OTLonESPN) May 22, 2017
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