NBA basketball player Enes Kanter held at Romanian airport after Turkey cancels passport in post-coup crackdown

Oklahoma City Thunder star calls Recep Tayyip Erdogan a ‘dictator’ as purges continue

Lizzie Dearden
Sunday 21 May 2017 01:16
Oklahoma City Thunder's Enes Kanter was held by Romanian police at Bucharest airport after his passport was cancelled
Oklahoma City Thunder's Enes Kanter was held by Romanian police at Bucharest airport after his passport was cancelled

A Turkish basketball star has become the latest victim of Turkey’s widening international crackdown on alleged coup plotters and political dissidents.

Enes Kanter, who lives in the US while playing for NBA team Oklahoma City Thunder, was held by Romanian police at Bucharest airport after his passport was cancelled.

“We are in Romania and they said they cancelled my passport by Turkish embassy,” he said in the video, speaking in English.

“You know because the reason behind it is just of course my political views.”

Mr Kanter said he was held for several hours, accusing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of being a “dictator” and the “Hitler of our century”.

“He is a bad, bad man,” the basketball player added, condemning an incident where Mr Erdogan’s bodyguards attacked anti-government protesters during his visit to Washington last week.

Mr Kanter’s agent, Melvut Cilnar, said he had since flown to London and expected to return to the US “very soon”.

Romania’s border police force said the basketball player had come from the US and made a stop in Frankfurt.

“At the border checkpoint it was discovered that his passport is not valid, his travel document being annulled by the issuing state,” a statement added.

Mr Kanter supports a movement run by Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of attempting to oust Mr Erdogan in a night of violence that left more than 240 people dead.

The sportsman severed ties with his family last year and publicly announced his support for Mr Gulen after Turkish media published a letter signed by his father, disowning his son.

Mr Gulen denies the claims, which have been dismissed by the UK, Germany and other nations who have also rejected the Turkish government’s attempts to label the group a terror organisation.

More than 150,000 people have been investigated in Turkey since July’s failed coup, seeing journalists, civil servants, judges, prosecutors, security personnel, teachers and academics dismissed or detained in huge purges.

Mr Erdogan’s government is now moving to extend the crackdown around the world, issuing letters from its embassies demanding the detention of selected suspects without trial.

The cancellation of passports has previously been used as a method to force deportation to Turkey, as in the case of three Turkish men extradited from Malaysia earlier this month.

Human rights groups warned that international school headteacher Turgay Karaman, academic Ismet Ozcelik and businessman Ihsan Aslan were “at risk of torture” after being detained in Dhaka and deported.

At an appearance Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan Mr Trump said he was fighting terrorism

Their families deny any involvement in the coup and said they held valid visas in Malaysia, but police said the trio technically became illegal immigrants when Turkey cancelled their passports.

Turkey has applied pressure to countries around the world that are home to institutions backed by Mr Gulen, whose movement runs about 2,000 educational establishments in around 160 countries.

Many countries have refused its demands, but it appears that allies including Malaysia are acquiescing.

The crackdown has made Turkey world’s most prolific jailer of journalists, as reporters are arrested and papers shut down on charges of aiding the “Fethullah Gulen terrorist organisation”, as it is labelled by Ankara.

Four more journalists were arrested from the opposition Sozcu newspaper on Friday, which responded with a “May 19 Press Freedom Special Edition”, carrying empty columns with writers' names.

Donald Trump was criticised for failing to raise the purges in a cosy press conference with Mr Erdogan, where he hailed Turkey’s “leadership” and partnership.

The US President was previously condemned for congratulating Mr Erdogan as he won a controversial referendum to dramatically expand his powers last month, sparking alarm among European leaders and human rights groups warning of growing restrictions on political dissent.

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