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Former NBA player faces new investigation on Erdoğan insult allegations

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Turkish prosecutors launched a new investigation into Enes Kanter Freedom, an activist and a former NBA player, on accusations of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after he posted a video on social media showing him stepping on a photo of Erdoğan, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

In a tweet last week Freedom shared a short video of him stepping on a portrait of Erdoğan with the message, “I ain’t afraid! I was made for this.”

Freedom, an outspoken critic of Erdoğan and his government, staged his protest as part of the Oslo Freedom Forum‘s “Step On Tyranny” campaign in Norway.

The human rights advocacy event saw visitors step on the photographs of other authoritarian leaders, from Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un to Nicolas Maduro, Ali Khamenei and Xi Jinping.

The investigation into Freedom has been launched by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

In another video, Freedom is seen stepping on the portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping, with the message, “This is what ruthless Dictators deserve. One day the brave people will step on every Dictatorship out there in the world and love and peace is going to win. One little note for everyone out there. Only God can judge me, don’t waste your freaking breath.”

Freedom frequently used social media posts and specially designed clothing during NBA games to raise awareness of China’s treatment of the Uyghur community as well as its actions in Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

His posts and comments caused a backlash in China, with Celtics games being pulled by Chinese video-streaming site Tencent and the government criticizing the 29-year-old’s comments.

Freedom, who had changed his name in November 2021, has since become a voice for the oppressed in China and worldwide.

In February 2022 he was traded from the Boston Celtics to the Houston Rockets, who promptly dropped him. Many suspect the NBA is punishing him for speaking out against China and is trying to silence him.

Freedom, 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.

Turkish prosecutors are already seeking a four-year prison sentence for his alleged membership in the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Turkey had canceled Freedom’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 his release in Romania.

Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of December 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.

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