A number of Republicans in the US Senate have expressed support for former Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom, an outspoken critic of human rights violations in Turkey and China’s treatment of Uyghurs, while criticizing the NBA for failing to also stand behind his cause, local media reported on Thursday.
After the Celtics traded Freedom to the Houston Rockets on Feb. 10, the Rockets unceremoniously waived Kanter Freedom within minutes, and no other team picked him up.
According to a report by The Hill on Wednesday, Kanter Freedom told PBS’s “Firing Line” last week that his professional basketball career would likely be cut short because of his criticism of China’s policies.
Last year he slammed China’s leader Xi Jinping and labeled China’s Tibet policy “cultural genocide.”
He has also called out the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, putting special focus on products made in the region with forced labor.
Kanter Freedom on Wednesday attended a Senate Republican closed-door lunch hosted by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, chairman of the Senate Republican Steering Committee.
“[It’s] an honor to host Enes Freedom today. He has taken a noble stand against genocide in China. [I’m] proud he’s an American and taking a stand for freedom!” Lee tweeted on Wednesday.
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) February 16, 2022
On Nov. 29 Kanter became an American citizen, taking the oath with his new surname of “Freedom.”
“Glad to have Enes Freedom standing tall for human rights, free speech & liberty. There’s a reason he changed his name to Freedom!” Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, said on Thursday, sharing a photo with the out-of-work NBA player.
Glad to have @EnesFreedom standing tall for human rights, free speech & liberty.
There's a reason he changed his name to Freedom! pic.twitter.com/SVCgTMY6Th
— Steve Daines (@SteveDaines) February 16, 2022
“I would love an explanation from the NBA, I really would. I think a lot of people would very much like an explanation from them,” Lee also told The Hill, regarding the reason Kanter Freedom was traded by the Celtics and then waived by the Houston Rockets.
“Former Kentucky Wildcat Enes Freedom is a champion for human rights and freedom. He is still at the top of his game. Now, the NBA is disgracefully punishing him for his criticism of the brutality of the Chinese Communist Party,” Republican Congressman from Kentucky Andy Barr said in a tweet on Monday, using the hashtag #DoTheRightThing.
Former Kentucky Wildcat @EnesFreedom is a champion for human rights & freedom. He is still at the top of his game. Now, the @NBA is disgracefully punishing him for his criticism of the brutality of the Chinese Communist Party. #DoTheRightThing https://t.co/Y8ylDfcDnr
— Rep. Andy Barr (@RepAndyBarr) February 14, 2022
“Is the NBA really that beholden to Chinese Communists? If so, they should be ashamed,” Barr added.
“Enes Kanter Freedom is speaking up for oppressed people of communist China, but the NBA is determined to silence him so they can make billions while promoting Chinese propaganda,” Republican Sen. James Lankford from Oklahoma tweeted on Thursday.
Enes Kanter Freedom is speaking up for oppressed people of communist China, but the @NBA is determined to silence him so they can make billions while promoting Chinese propaganda. pic.twitter.com/wtipDO3gf3
— Sen. James Lankford (@SenatorLankford) February 16, 2022
Noting that Kanter Freedom was a “naturalized American” that certainly understands US freedom of speech better than the NBA, Lankford added, “Who is the better positive role model Enes or the NBA?”
“Enes is an important voice highlighting genocide. We need to amplify those who risk their livelihoods to call out this murderous regime,” Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said, posting a video with Freedom on his Twitter account.
— U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (@SenBillCassidy) February 15, 2022
Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida also posted a photo of him and Kanter Freedom on Thursday, saying: “Great to be with my friend Enes Freedom today. Enes is a true fighter and I’m proud of our work together to highlight Communist China’s horrific abuses and stand for freedom and human rights for all.”
Great to be with my friend @EnesFreedom today. Enes is a true fighter and I’m proud of our work together to highlight Communist China’s horrific abuses and stand for freedom and human rights for all. pic.twitter.com/FMG8NQndDc
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) February 16, 2022
According to an article in The Atlantic on Wednesday, a member of the Norwegian Parliament put Kanter Freedom’s name up for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“I’m honored and humbled to receive the nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Sometimes taking a stand is more important than your next paycheck,” Kanter Freedom tweeted on Wednesday.
The Atlantic also said 30 Nobel laureates last Thursday released a letter calling on the Celtics to stand with Kanter Freedom “on the right side of history” and not “to drop him as a player.”
The chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) said earlier this month that the Celtics center would be speaking at the 2022 conference, though one Washington Post reporter on Tuesday said he was told by Kanter Freedom that he would no longer be speaking, The Hill reported.
Kanter is an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian policies and human rights record. Turkish prosecutors are seeking a four-year prison sentence for his alleged membership in the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, resident in the US.
Turkey had revoked Kanter’s passport in 2017 and attempted to have him deported from Romania on May 20, 2017 during one of his international trips. His passport was briefly seized by the Romanian police upon a request from the Turkish government. The NBA said it had worked with the State Department to ensure Kanter’s release in Romania.
Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of Dec. 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen strongly denies involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity. Following the allegations, he called on the Turkish government to allow for an international investigation.