Former NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom asks US for sanctions on Turkey, Erdogan

“It is unacceptable that a foreign government can put a bounty on an American citizen’s head on US soil,” he said.

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A former NBA center is calling on the Biden administration to impose sanctions against Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the Turkish government placed a bounty on his head.

Enes Kanter Freedom, a US citizen and an outspoken critic of the Turkish president, has met with over 125 members of Congress in the two weeks.

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In an interview with Al Arabiya English on Capitol Hill, Kanter Freedom said he was on the Hill to further educate US lawmakers on what he says are human rights violations around the world.

“It is unacceptable that a foreign government can put a bounty on an American citizen’s head on US soil,” he said.

Kanter Freedom has had to bounce around and move several times out of fear for his safety. “This is a real threat to his life,” one congressional aide who met with Kanter Freedom said.

The former NBA player was placed on Turkey’s wanted list this week for allegedly being a member of a terrorist organization. Up to 10 million Turkish liras, close to $500,000, are being offered as a reward to anyone who provides helpful information that leads to his capture.

Ankara is accusing Kanter Freedom of being a member of a group founded by Fethullah Gulen, who currently lives in exile in the US.

Washington has rejected Turkey’s request to extradite Gulen.

He described his conversations with Republican and Democratic lawmakers as “really good” and said members of Congress agreed that the actions of Erdogan’s government were unacceptable.

More than 40 House Republicans signed a letter to US President Joe Biden earlier this week asking for him to look at potential sanctions under the Magnitsky Act, which is meant to crack down on human rights violations and violators.

But Kanter Freedom said he has bipartisan support, and there is agreement from both sides of the aisle on his human rights campaign.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re from the right or the left; you have to care about human rights issues going on anywhere in the world,” he said.

Asked what could be done from a US point of view, Kanter Freedom was explicit in expressing his support for sanctions. “You know, condemning dictators is not going to work. So, we have to take some concrete actions,” he said.

Kanter Freedom pointed to the upcoming Turkish elections slated for May. “We literally have around three months, so that’s why we are coming here and trying to do our best to just bring awareness and see what we can do.”

He is also trying to land a meeting with Biden to explain to him the situation inside Turkey as well as other global human rights issues.

“I’m not the only one on the [wanted] list. There are so many innocent people, journalists, academics, athletes, and celebrities… And now their life is in danger,” Kanter Freedom said.

As Kanter Freedom continues to speak out on these issues, including against China and its detention of over one million Uyghur Muslims, his chances of returning to the NBA weaken.

“They do care about a lot of issues that are happening, but not China,” he said when asked if he was getting support from the NBA or his former colleagues.

He cited the lucrative shoe, jersey and TV contracts inside China. “They are scared to say anything against the Chinese government, but they [NBA players] are learning for sure,” Kanter Freedom said.

At 30 years old, he says he is healthy and can still play for at least another six years in the NBA. But basketball experts he has discussions with say his stance on China is “very unacceptable,” making it nearly impossible to return to the league.

With his parents having their passports taken away by the Turkish government and not having a team to play professional basketball with, Kanter Freedom says he will continue to advocate against “brutal regimes” in China and Turkey.

“We have to do whatever we can to save Turkey because if Erdogan wins the elections, that’s another six years of this whole craziness,” he said.

As the interview was wrapping up, world-renowned comedian Tracy Morgan called Kanter Freedom. The American actor said he just wanted to say hello and give his support to his “good friend.”

Read more: US senator blasts Turkey’s Erdogan, calls for sanctions and no F-16s

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