Turkey’s authoritarian leader is seeking to imprison an NBA player for criticizing him

Enes Kanter has been an outspoken critic of the authoritarian ruler.

New York Knicks' Enes Kanter (00) passes between Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) and Kyle Korver (26) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
New York Knicks' Enes Kanter (00) passes between Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) and Kyle Korver (26) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Standing nearly seven feet tall, professional basketball player Enes Kanter is a hard man to talk down to, physically or otherwise. He’s been a solid contributor in his first season playing with the Knicks, but what really earned him the respect and admiration of New York’s hardened fans was his mouth, as he’s shown a willingness to trade barbs with no less a player than LeBron James.

But his mouth has also gotten him into trouble of a more serious nature in his native Turkey, where the notoriously thin-skinned authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now seeking to imprison the NBA star for hurting his feelings.

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Back in 2016, Kanter—then with the Oklahoma City Thunder—was detained in a Romanian airport after the Turkish government revoked his passport. Kanter is an outspoken supporter of a U.S.-based Turkish cleric whom Erdogan’s government blames for a failed coup attempt last year. In a video shot from the airport, Kanter referred to Erdogan as a dictator and “the Hitler of our century.” It took intervention by U.S. State Department officials to remove him from Eastern Europe.

His criticism hasn’t subsided since, and Erdogan’s government isn’t letting it go either. Kanter’s father was reportedly arrested in Turkey last year despite having disowned his son for his outspoken opposition to Erdogan, and the NBA star says he receives constant death threats from supporters and allies of Erdogan. On Wednesday, a new wrinkle was introduced when prosecutors representing the Turkish government announced they were seeking a four-year prison sentence for Kanter, charging him with insulting the president. According to the New York Daily News, Kanter would be tried in absentia.

Erdogan, who enjoys a close kinship with President Donald Trump, is well-known and reviled for his draconian approach to critics, arresting thousands of dissenters and journalists in the last year. His brutality isn’t confined to Turkey, either. During a state visit to Washington, D.C. earlier this year, Erdogan’s bodyguards violently attacked peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence while the Trump administration stood idly by.

Kanter, meanwhile, didn’t seem fazed by Wednesday’s news.

“I was like, ‘That’s it? Only four years?’” he told the New York Post. “All the trash I’ve been talking?”

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[My] success is going to drive all these haters crazy,” he added. “If we make playoffs then that will drive him crazy, so that’s what I’m really focused on right now, just make the playoffs and drive this dude crazy.” The Knicks are currently a game ahead of the Miami Heat for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

By mid-afternoon, he was tweeting again.