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Turkish NBA star ‘shocked’ by harassment outside mosque

Published: Updated:

Turkish NBA player Enes Kanter said on Sunday in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya English that he was shocked when two Turkish men harassed and threatened him outside his mosque in Massachusetts on Friday.

Kanter, an outspoken critic of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, taped the incident and shared the video on social media. The video shows two men, described as supporters of Erdogan, waiting outside of the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge as Kanter left the building.

Kanter said the two Turkish men cursed at him, threatened him and called him a “traitor.”

“This happened at Friday prayer. I was shocked to see the thugs outside and verbally attacking me. I talk about democracy and human rights [for the people of Turkey] and they hate that, so they think I’m a traitor. I love my country. I’m fighting for freedom of speech and democracy in my homeland,” said Kanter in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya English.

In spite of the backlash, Kanter frequently uses his public platform to criticize Erdogan’s policies and the Turkish government’s authoritarian rule. He receives most threats online, but on Friday the threats were delivered outside his place of worship.

“They can’t stand me practicing my freedom of religion here in America. I shouldn’t be feeling uncomfortable or insecure while critiquing anyone, but unfortunately even in America they make me feel this insecurity,” said Kanter.

Kanter’s role as a political critic began in 2013, when Erdogan began shutting down private college preparatory centers in Turkey. The clampdown was seen as a move against the popular cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Kanter supports, after protests against Erdogan’s authoritarianism in Gezi Park, Istanbul.

In May, 2016, Kanter – who had moved from Turkey to the US at age 17 and was then playing for Oklahoma City Thunder – was accused of insulting Erdogan on Twitter. The Turkish government issued a warrant for his arrest known as an Interpol “red notice.”

“A prosecutor indicted me for four years jail time for ‘insulting’ Erdogan - who deserves every single criticism in the name of him violating human and democratic rights,” Kanter told Al Arabiya English.

Kanter’s family, who live in Turkey, were also targeted by the state.

Kanter’s father was fired from his position as a university professor during the 2016 purge of public employees, as tens of thousands of people were arrested or dismissed from government jobs, and thousands of media organizations or civil society groups were shut, in a clampdown following the failed military coup against Erdogan’s government.

His father was also jailed for one week as a result of Kanter’s political status. Kanter has not communicated with his parents or sister in Turkey since their family home was raided in 2016. He hasn’t seen them in four years.

Kanter himself has been made stateless as a result of his criticism. In 2017, while on a worldwide tour for his charitable Enes Kanter Foundation, Kanter was detained in a Romanian airport after authorities told him his passport was invalid. Turkey had revoked Kanter's passport, rendering him stateless.

Kanter has reported receiving death threats in both Turkey and the US, his adopted country. He said that US government officials and police enforcement, as well as NBA teammates, coaches, and fans, have been incredibly helpful to him in this situation.