New York Knicks center Enes Kanter says he will not be traveling with the team to play against the Washington Wizards at London’s O2 Arena on January 17 over fears that he could be killed by spies working for his native Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
‘Sadly, I’m not going because of that freaking lunatic, the Turkish president,’ Kanter told reporters after Friday’s win over the Lakers in Los Angeles.
‘It’s pretty sad that all the stuff affects my career and basketball, because I want to be out there and help my team win. But just because of the one lunatic guy, one maniac, one dictator, I can’t even go out there and do my job. It’s pretty sad.
‘They’ve got a lot of spies there,’ he continued when asked about London. ‘I can get killed very easy. That will be a very ugly situation.’
However, as a Knicks spokesman told the DailyMail.com, it’s actually a visa issue that will prevent the 26-year-old Kanter from traveling to the United Kingdom.
New York Knicks center Enes Kanter says he will not be traveling with the team to play against the Washington Wizards at London’s O2 Arena on January 17 over fears that he could be killed
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured) has been cracking down on political opposition ever since a failed coup attempt in 2016
While doing charitable work abroad, Kanter was detained in Romania in May of 2017 when authorities learned his Turkish passport had been revoked.
He later returned to the United States, and has been permitted to travel to Toronto for games against the Raptors.
Kanter currently faces four years in a Turkish prison for insulting Erdogan, whom the NBA star has repeatedly referred to as ‘The Hitler of our century.’
Since 2016, when he survived an attempted coup, Erdogan has been cracking down on the media and political opponents, leading to thousands of arrests.
Kanter, who previously said he’s received death threats, is a follower of a U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who the government accuses of masterminding the failed military coup in 2016.
Gülen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, has denied the allegation, but tens of thousands of people suspected of ties to his network were arrested or fired following the failed coup.
New York Knicks center Enes Kanter, center, tries to shoot as Los Angeles Lakers center Ivica Zubac, left, and guard Lance Stephenson defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, in Los Angeles. He spoke about his fears of going to London after the game
Enes’ father Mehmet Kanter (pictured), a professor, was purged from public service after that failed coup attempt and detained for five days last summer
In a statement previously provided to the DailyMail.com from the Turkish Consulate in New York, a government spokesman accused Kanter of being a radical terrorist.
‘Enes Kanter is one of the well-known recruits of Fetullah Gülen and a vocal mouthpiece of FETÖ,’ the statement read. (‘FETÖ’ is an abbreviation for the Turkish government’s name for Gülen and his followers: ‘Fetullah Gülen Terrorist Orgnaization’)
‘He is a tragic example, or a case study of radicalization by this cultish crime syndicate,’ the statement continues.
‘He encountered the Gülenist structures in early ages. He studied in one of their schools in Turkey. These schools functioned as the main grounds for brainwashing talented/intelligent kids, transforming them into servants of Gülen and his cult.’
The statement goes on to accuse Gülen’s organization of stuffing the virtual NBA All-Star ballot boxes in Kanter’s favor: ‘One of the orders disseminated to the Gülenists through this program was to support Enes Kanter’s NBA Allstar (sic) bid through internet voting. Another instruction was that members should use every kind of social media to demonstrate support for Kanter, following his row with his family.’
Although he publicly denounced and disowned his son, Mehmet Kanter was indicted on terrorism charges in June and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Prior to that, Mehmet, a professor, was purged from public service after the coup attempt and detained for five days in 2017.
Enes Kanter has stated that he believes he father was arrested in retaliation for his outspoken criticism of Erdogan.
It was previously reported that although the NBA is very popular in Turkey, Knicks games are not broadcast within the country. And recently, when the NBA’s Turkish social media accounts asked fans to name the top Turkish player, Kanter was noticeably omitted from the list
Kanter has said he’s struggled to sign a shoe contract because sneaker companies are reluctant to anger Turkey, where they have ‘million dollar investments,’ he explained in 2018.