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NEW YORK (June 3, 2022) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) denounces the Turkish government’s newly-announced investigation into professional basketball player and 2022 Havel Prize Laureate Enes Kanter Freedom (formerly Enes Kanter) under accusations of the crime of “insulting the president” — which has led to calls from regime supporters to “find… and kill [Kanter] on the spot.” The investigation was announced days after Kanter Freedom posted videos of himself stepping on photos of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his social media as part of the 2022 Oslo Freedom Forum’s “#StepOnTyranny” interactive initiative.

“Erdoğan and his cronies showcase the exquisite emotional fragility of the Turkish dictator who can’t bear to see himself being the target of symbolic speech expressing strong disagreement, rejection and even disrespect in response to the human rights abuses committed by the regime,” said HRF CEO Thor Halvorssen. “To simply handle his bout of hypersensitivity, Erdoğan is marshalling his prosecutors and Turkey’s apparatus of repression and extortion. Erdoğan’s razor-thin skin reminds us of the insecurities of dictators globally, and their misuse of state resources to buy sycophants.”

Erdoğan’s regime is notorious for targeting activists and dissidents beyond its borders. For years now, the regime has issued threats to Kanter Freedom’s safety in response to his human rights activism on behalf of thousands of political prisoners in Turkey. In 2017 during a visit to Indonesia, the Turkish government employed local police to kidnap the activist. Upon escaping the country, his Turkish passport was revoked, and the Turkish government issued an Interpol Red Notice against him. As of October 2021, Erdoğan had issued ten arrest warrants against him. Kanter Freedom was rendered stateless and only recently became a US citizen in November 2021, when he officially changed his last name to “Freedom” to emphasize his human rights activism.

As a professional basketball player, Kanter Freedom understands the importance of using his global platform to increase awareness about egregious human rights abuses around the world. Since the start of the 2021 NBA season, he has worked with dissident artists, including Chinese dissident artist and 2020 Havel Prize Laureate Badiucao, to use his basketball shoes as a canvas to highlight the Chinese government’s blatant disregard for freedom including the Uyghur genocidethe occupation of TibetUyghur forced labor, and the crackdown of civil liberties in Hong Kong. As a result of his activism, Kanter Freedom is banned from China and was recently inexplicably dropped by the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets.

“Enes Kanter Freedom has always stood on the side of love and peace, even in the face of hate and repression,” said HRF Senior Strategy and Research Associate Jenny Wang. “To the democratic world, human rights advocates, and all concerned global citizens: Let’s stand with Enes – just the way he stands with us.”

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

Watch HRF CEO Thor Halvorssen and Turkish activist and NBA player Enes Kanter’s discussion, “Knick vs. Dictator” at the 2018 Oslo Freedom Forum in New York to learn about corruption and human rights abuses committed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime.

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