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Turkey wants to imprison Knicks’ Enes Kanter for more than four years over presidential insults

Enes Kanter is apparently a wanted man in his native Turkey. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AP)

Turkish prosecutors are seeking a lengthy prison term for New York Knicks center Enes Kanter on charges that he insulted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Wednesday. The indictment against Kanter, a Turkish national, is based on a series of tweets he posted in May and June 2016, according to the Associated Press.

Istanbul’s public prosecutor is requesting a four-year sentence for Kanter, who would be tried in absentia.

The former Oklahoma City Thunder player has long been a critic of the Turkish government, and Erdogan in particular. He has also expressed support for Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric Turkey has blamed for a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Responding to the news at Knicks practice Wednesday, Kanter expressed surprise that Turkey wasn’t seeking a more punitive sanction.

“Four years? That’s it?” Kanter said, per the New York Daily News. “For all of the trash I’ve been talking?”

In May, Kanter was detained at the airport in Bucharest, Romania, while on a worldwide tour for the Enes Kanter Foundation, which provides meals and clothing to the needy worldwide. He said the Turkish embassy had revoked his passport, which he described as a common tactic and an attempt to get critics of the Turkish government deported back to Turkey for punishment. With help from the Oklahoma City Thunder — his then-NBA team — the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and both Oklahoma senators, he was able to travel to London and then on to New York.

“You guys need to know what is going on in Turkey right now,” Kanter wrote on the Players’ Tribune earlier this year, after his airport scare. “I hope people around the world will open their eyes to the human rights abuses. Things have gotten very bad over the last year. This is not my opinion. We don’t know everything that is happening inside Turkey, but we do know some facts. Newspapers and media have been restricted. Academics have been fired. Peaceful protesting is not allowed. Many people have been imprisoned without any real charges. There are reports of torture and rape and worse.”

The government in Turkey has indeed escalated its crackdown against dissidents following an attempted overthrow of Erdogan last year. Rogue elements of the military seized tanks and fighter jets and attacked protestors from helicopters on the streets of major cities.

Since then, authorities have arrested and detained tens of thousands of police, military, bureaucrats and activists — often on charges of supporting the coup.
According to press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, Turkey remains the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with more than 73 reporters behind bars. Human Rights Watch said that the post-coup clampdown “was symptomatic of the government’s increasing authoritarianism.”

The Turkish government reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Kanter after the airport incident, accusing him of membership in a “terror group.” Kanter was further defiant in the Players’ Tribune piece:

“I want you guys to think about what the Turkish government means when they say that I am a ‘dangerous’ man,” Kanter said in his essay. “I’ve never broken any laws. No speeding tickets, nothing. But I’m dangerous? Why?”
“I speak my mind about things that I believe in,” he wrote. “I always have. I share my thoughts on Twitter and Facebook about the terrible things that are being done to people in Turkey. I want the whole world to know about the human rights abuses that are going on there.
“To the Erdogan government, this makes me a dangerous man.”

In September, the Thunder traded Kanter to the Knicks as part of the deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City. The U.S. green card holder has played in the NBA since 2011, when the Utah Jazz selected him with the draft’s third overall pick.

It seems unlikely that the United States would ever extradite Kanter. According to the 1979 extradition treaty between the two countries, someone can be extradited to Turkey only if the offense is punishable “under both the federal laws of the United States and the laws of Turkey.” At last check, alleged insults of a president is protected speech in the United States.

Or at least that’s the way Kanter understood the law when asked about it Wednesday.

Plus, extradition to Turkey is not allowed if the offense is considered “to be of a political character” or if the request for extradition has “been made to prosecute or punish the person sought for an offense of a political character or on account of his political opinions.”

The Post’s Erin Cunningham contributed to this report from Turkey.

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