Ankara’s foreign policy, including the attacks on America’s Kurdish allies with Turkey’s recent incursion into northern Syria and Erdogan’s increasing closeness with Russia, is one source of friction. Another source, which receives less publicity, is Erdogan’s dismal human rights record. I will leave the foreign-policy aspect to others; my aim is to draw attention to Erdogan’s mistreatment of his own people. I want to urge Trump to press Erdogan to stop cracking down on his political opposition and end his authoritarian abuses of Turkish citizens.
Turkey’s most outspoken journalists and activists are languishing in prisons, media companies are either being shut down or cowed into submission, teachers are being jailed, civil society organizations are threatened and social media is heavily censored. The attacks on dissent are so arbitrary that anyone who offers even a mild criticism might see the inside of a prison cell.
Before Erdogan turned increasingly authoritarian following an attempted coup in 2016, Turkey might not have been a stable, consolidated democracy, but at least it had a lively news media, a somewhat independent judiciary and vibrant civil society. Ankara’s negotiations over membership in the European Union and its close ties with the United States had ensured that fundamental rights and freedoms of people were reasonably well respected.
It is conceivable that someday Turkey could return to that state, but it won’t happen unless free nations call attention to Erdogan’s awful human rights record.
I know personally of how dangerous the regime is, and of how hard making it change will be. I came to the United States when I was 17, and I rarely traveled back to Turkey. But I have watched with alarm as Erdogan embraced dictatorship, and I have been outspoken in criticizing the regime. The intolerance of dissent Erdogan shows at home is also applied overseas: The Turkish government issued an arrest warrant for me, filed an Interpol “red notice” demanding that other countries detain me, threatened my family and arrested my father. I don’t communicate with relatives in Turkey because I fear that a single message could be used as evidence of “terrorist activity.”
I have been threatened and harassed on the street in Boston, where I play basketball for the Celtics, by goons who I assume were Turkish agents.
Basketball is my passion, but I’m thankful that it also provides me with a platform that can make my life more meaningful by allowing me to speak out in support of those suffering in Turkey. The response from people in the United States and around the world has been so inspiring that this week I’ve started an online petition called “You Are My Hope,” with the goal of obtaining 1 million signatures to raise awareness of the human rights abuses in my home country.
When the goal is reached, I intend to send the petition to human rights groups, to Congress, to any organization that might be able to be able to bring pressure to bear on the Erdogan regime. And, of course, I’ll send it to the White House.