When the NCAA ruled Enes Kanter ineligible to play basketball for the University of Kentucky, people tweeted #FreeEnes.
Now that the Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Kanter after he criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the hashtag has re-emerged.
Kanter’s fight for free speech brings an international issue to the Bluegrass. Kanter has openly criticized the Erdoğan government, and in reward it revoked his passport so he could not travel.
What Kanter was reminded of, and what we should learn from him, is that the freedoms we have in the United States should not be taken for granted.
Kanter, who now plays in the NBA for the Oklahoma City Thunder, was in Indonesia running a kids basketball clinic when the Turkish government told Indonesian police that Kanter was a dangerous man.
He left the country in the middle of the night for Romania, where he was told that his passport had been canceled. Eventually, he was able to fly to London, then back to the United States.
In a video posted to Twitter, Kanter said he was detained because of his political views.
Kanter accused Erdoğan of creating a dictatorship since the 2016 failed coup in Turkey. Erdoğan blamed Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric now living in the U.S., for instigating the coup. Kanter supports Gülen, which is likely why the Turkish government accused Kanter of being in a terror group.
In an article for The Players’ Tribune, Kanter wrote about his experience.
“The biggest threat to Erdoğan is free speech, so he will punish anyone who speaks up or thinks for himself,” Kanter wrote.
Since the failed coup, Erdoğan has been criticized for using force to silence critics, including a violent clash May 16 in Washington, D.C., involving Erdoğan’s security detail.
In Turkey, Erdoğan has closed at least 100 news outlets and jailed about 80 journalists.
Kanter drew attention to the fate of those in Turkey. “If the Erdoğan government will treat an NBA player this way, how do you think it is for everyone else?” he wrote.
Not only must we remember those suffering in Turkey under an increasingly authoritarian government, but we must appreciate — and, most importantly, protect — the freedoms we have here.
Here, where nonviolent protests are not only allowed but protected. Here, where people can speak their mind without fear of jail time, or worse. Here, where a journalist getting body slammed his glasses broken by a violent politician causes national outrage.
“We should never forget how important our freedoms are here in America,” Kanter wrote.
He’s right. Nor should we ever allow them to be taken away.