Portland Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter, an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the deepening human rights crisis taking place under his government, has dedicated his team’s Thursday victory to the Zaman daily — which was seized and shut down by the Turkish government in 2016 – the TR724 news website reported on Friday.
“Five years ago today, Turkey’s largest newspaper was brutally taken over by dictator Erdoğan’s regime in an attempt to silence free media. Tear gas, plastic bullets, and water cannons were used on journalists during the raid. I dedicate today’s victory to the ZAMAN newspaper,” Kanter, also a political activist, tweeted following Thursday’s victory.
Kanter’s team wrapped up the first half of the season with a three-game winning streak, finishing off with a 123-119 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night.
Kanter, who has lived mainly in the United States for more than a decade, has used his substantial platform as an international star athlete to condemn Turkey’s pivot towards authoritarianism under Erdoğan over the past few years.
The Zaman daily, which had the largest daily circulation — with more than 600,000 subscribers — in Turkey at the time, was confiscated by government officials in 2016 in the aftermath of a rift between Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the faith-based Gülen movement.
As part of a government-led crackdown on the movement, which followed a corruption scandal in Turkey in late 2013 implicating then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle, a Turkish court appointed trustees to the management of Feza Gazetecilik A.Ş., a media company affiliated with the movement, and included the Zaman newspaper.
The trustees had run the paper until an abortive putsch in 2016, turning it into a mouthpiece of the Erdoğan government and firing most of the editorial staff.
Kanter describes himself as a close ally of Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Muslim cleric who inspired the Gülen movement, which is regarded as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government and is accused of masterminding the abortive putsch that targeted Erdoğan’s government on July 15, 2016.
Although both Gülen and his followers strongly deny involvement in the attempted coup and in any terrorist activities, Ankara removed more than 130,000 civil servants from their jobs on alleged Gülen links following the failed coup as part of a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens that was launched under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on February 20 that a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the faith-based group since the failed coup. There are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the movement, Soylu also said.
In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.