NEW YORK (June 20, 2018) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) calls on the government of Turkey to drop the terrorism charges against Dr. Mehmet Kanter, the father of NBA player and Erdogan critic Enes Kanter. Mehmet Kanter was indicted Monday on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” for his alleged connection to the Gulen movement and faces up to 10 years in prison. Mehmet Kanter’s indictment comes days before the country’s elections on June 24, the first vote since last year’s constitutional referendum granted Erdogan expansive executive power and weakened term limits. Erdogan is seeking reelection to serve as president until 2023.
“Erdogan’s ongoing purge in Turkey has already led to the imprisonment of thousands of judges, journalists, and other innocent individuals whose only crime is disagreeing with their country’s dictator,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Internationally, too, Erdogan is acting with impunity. He has sent his guards to beat up peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C. in broad daylight; he has abused Interpol Red Notices to arrest dissidents internationally; and now he is going so far as to harass and persecute the loved ones of those who dare to criticize him abroad. This is clearly a politically-motivated decision aimed at punishing Enes Kanter for speaking his mind and blackmailing him into silence.”
The charges against Mehmet Kanter are a result of his alleged affiliation with the religious philosophy of Hizmet, commonly referred to as the Gulen movement, which has between three to six million followers in Turkey. The Turkish government accused the movement’s religious leader, Fethullah Gulen, of leading a failed coup attempt in 2016; since then, the regime has persecuted thousands of public figures, judges, journalists, civil society leaders, and many others for their perceived connections to the Gulen movement. The regime has also pressured other governments to persecute Gulenists and former teachers and graduates affiliated with Turkish-Turkmen educational institutions, as documented in a 2017 HRF petition to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Mehmet Kanter’s indictment was admitted by a Turkish court on Monday, June 17. According to media reports, an arrest warrant was issued after Kanter had already spent several days in custody under the guise of “judicial control.” In 2017, he was arrested and held incommunicado for five days as part of the investigation that led to his indictment this week. Kanter is a former university professor who was fired due to his alleged connection to the Gulen movement during Erdogan’s purge of public service officials.
Enes Kanter, Mehmet’s son, plays for the New York Knicks and is a follower of Fethullah Gulen. He has been subject to persecution in retaliation for his open criticism of Erdogan’s regime. In 2017, Enes’ passport was cancelled by the Turkish government. As a result, he was unable to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum last month, where he was scheduled to speak. Instead, he sent a video address in which he criticized Erdogan for criminalizing dissent and announced his plans to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum in New York on September 17.
In communication with HRF, Enes Kanter stated, “It’s a shame what’s happening to my father due to me speaking out against a regime that has swallowed democracy in Turkey. But let’s not forget about the 20,000 women and more than 600 children in jail right now who are innocent. My father is getting attention because I’m in the NBA, but we need to keep reminding the world that over 100,000 people have been detained and arrested over the last year on bogus charges. There is no vestige of rule of law or due process anymore in Turkey.”
This weekend, on June 24, the country will hold presidential and parliamentary elections. The vote, which will take place while the country is still under a state of emergency, was initially set to take place in 2019, but was rescheduled as a snap election after an announcement by Erdogan in April. In an effort to prevent Erdogan from further consolidating his power, opposition parties have formed a political alliance against him. It has been stated that snap elections could be called again if Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) are not able to form a majority in parliament.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
Watch Enes Kanter’s video address to the Oslo Freedom Forum here. Read about the international persecution of alleged Gulenists in HRF’s legal petition to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, open letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Turkmenistan.