President Donald Trump recently entered into the national debate over the NFL protests by criticizing football players taking a knee before games during the national anthem. Some were enraged and called for his impeachment — a call that I previously discussed as unfounded and dangerous. I saw no reason why the President was out of line in giving his opinion on the controversy. There is however an even more pressing matter involving an American professional athlete that would warrant a strong and public statement from President Trump. He is New York Knicks player Enes Kanter who is the subject of an abusive charge in Turkey for allegedly insulting its blood-soaked authoritarian leader President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. President Trump should publicly support Kanter and his right to exercise free speech — a right that Erdogan has curtailed in Turkey in his crackdown on dissidents and journalists alike.
Among his tweets, Kanter described Erdogan as Erdogan as the “Hitler of our century.”
We have seen the erosion of liberties in Turkey after the election of Erdoğan and his coalition of Islamic parties. Just last month, we discussed the arrest of Mehmet Emin Altunses
, 16, who allegedly committed the crime of “insulting” Erdoğan. calling people who use birth control “traitors”
and saying Muslims discovered America
, you are not allowed to be disrespectful or insulting in discussing Erdoğan. Then there was the prosecution of model and former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac,
26, for criticizing Erdogan for quoting a few lines from a poem called the “Master’s Poem” from weekly Turkish satirical magazine Uykusuz. Erdoğan’s totalitarian measures have earned him the nickname “Buyuk Usta” (the Big Master). Even a joking reference to Gollum and Erdoğan is enough to land you in jail today in Turkey.
Erdoğan has the dubious distinction of being the man who dismantled the only major secular government in the Muslim world — after lying that he had no intention of infusing the system with Islamic influences and doctrines. As a petty tyrant who is despised throughout the world and in torts might even be considered “libel proof” as someone who is without a reputation to lose.
Nevertheless, Erdoğan continues to try to crush anyone who even makes fun of his litany of bizarre, unhinged comments — including a German comedian
. In this latest case, Kanter criticized Erdogan in 2016 tweets and was then hit with an indictment by the Istanbul chief prosecutor. His response was clear and entirely factually accurate: “That dude is a maniac.”
Kanter’s family is from Turkey and he is known to be a supporter of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric blamed by Turkey who Erdogan wants dead.
He may now be tried in absentia.
Prior Trump associates like Michael Flynn have been associated with Turkish figures in rather shadowy deal, including an alleged plot to kidnap Gulen. President Trump could quiet many of these concerns while standing in support of free speech by denouncing this indictment and calling upon Turkey to withdraw this abusive prosecution.