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Ex-NBA player among activists urging Canada to sanction Turkish officials for rights abuses

Kacmaz Family

The Kaçmaz Family

Former NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom was among activists that recently urged the Canadian government to impose sanctions on 12 Turkish officials for their alleged human rights violations targeting people accused of links to the faith-based Gülen movement.

The Turkish officials were accused of crimes committed against Gökhan Açıkkollu, a teacher who died in custody after being detained over links to the Gülen movement; Mesut and Meral Kaçmaz, a couple who were illegally deported by the Pakistani government to Turkey; and Professor Murat Acar and his family, who were renditioned from Bahrain to Turkey.

Following a failed coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016, Açıkkollu was detained on July 24, 2016 on trumped-up charges of coup plotting and terrorism and remained in police custody for 13 days, during which time he was subjected to both physical and psychological torture until he died.

The Kaçmaz couple and their two daughters were abducted from their home after midnight in Lahore on Sept. 27, 2017 and illegally deported by the Pakistani government to Turkey just two days before their scheduled appearance before a Pakistani court. In June 2018 the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the Turkish government to immediately release the couple.

The Acar family was renditioned from Bahrain on Oct. 5, 2016 to Turkey, where they were arbitrarily detained on similar charges as the others, due to alleged links to the Gülen movement. The Bahraini police had raided their home and handed them over to the Turkish police despite the family being under UN protection.

The Kaçmaz and Acar families, currently residing in Canada, shared their harrowing experiences with Canadian lawmakers, while Freedom, along with international human rights lawyer Sarah Teich and barrister Michael Polak, called on the Canadian government to add 12 Turkish officials to the sanctions list due to their alleged role in the human rights violations.

During a program titled “Power and Politics” on CBC, Freedom and Teich talked about their call on the Canadian government, stating that among the 12 Turkish officials that they are asking to be sanctioned is one of the prosecutors responsible for the bounty put on Freedom’s head by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in January.

Freedom was included on the Turkish Interior Ministry’s “Terrorist Wanted List,” which offers a reward of up to TL 10 million for information that leads to the capture of the person being sought.

“Enough is enough. … You cannot have … soft talks with dictatorships. … We got to get some serious concrete actions,” Freedom said on CBC, adding that efforts were also ongoing in the UK and the US to impose sanctions on Turkish state officials involved in cases of torture and forced disappearances.

Enes Kanter became a US citizen and adopted “Freedom” as his surname in 2021. Since then, he has become a voice for the oppressed in China and around the world.

Freedom has lived mainly in the US for more than a decade and has used his substantial platform as an international star athlete to condemn Turkey’s pivot towards authoritarianism under President Erdoğan, in addition to advocating for the rights of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hongkongers and others.

Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, 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. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

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