Enes Kanter: New York Knicks centre says he is trapped in US

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Why the New York Knicks will be without Enes Kanter for their London NBA game

New York Knicks centre Enes Kanter says he is "trapped" in the United States after Turkish prosecutors issued an international warrant for his arrest.

Turkey-born Kanter, 26, was due to play against the Washington Wizards in the NBA in London on Thursday.

Kanter, a critic of Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been accused of having links with armed groups said to be behind the 2016 failed coup.

He told Newsbeat's Nomia Iqbal he fears being "hunted" if travelling to London.

Kanter said he feared a "lone wolf attack" from an Erdogan supporter.

"Erdogan's long arms are everywhere, so that's why I didn't really feel safe to go to London," Kanter said.

"The Turkish government is very famous for hunting down people who talk against the government and Erdogan.

"So I talked to my team and they said the best thing is to stay in the United States and just practise here."

Kanter said his fears over travelling to London were justified after the arrest warrant was issued.

"The Turkish government put a red notice under my name with Interpol when my team was on the flight, still in the air," he said.

"So if I went to London, as soon as I left the plane they would send me back to Turkey."

Kanter's Turkish passport was cancelled in 2017, which he said was because of his political views.

Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the US, is alleged to have masterminded the coup, and Kanter said he was with the Islamic cleric on the night of the coup.

More than 50,000 people have been imprisoned in Turkey in a crackdown by the authorities following the failed coup.

Kanter holds a US green card and says he will become an American citizen in 2021.

"If I step outside now I have the red notice under my name for Interpol. If I step outside of America I'm not feeling safe," he said.

'I always have someone next to me - even if I go to the supermarket'

Kanter moved to the US in 2009 and was drafted into the NBA by the Utah Jazz in 2011, before joining the Knicks in 2017.

"There are Erdogan supporters in New York too," he said.

"I always have friends with me even if I go to practice, go to a play, go to a supermarket, go grocery shopping. I always have someone next to me.

"It's New York and I want to go out, have fun or just walk around Time Square, go see the Statue of Liberty. I really cannot do all those things."

An arrest warrant was issued for Kanter's father Mehmet, a university professor, in June 2018 after he was accused of contacting members of a banned organisation. Kanter has not seen him since 2015.

Kanter said he receives "hundreds and hundreds" of death threats every day and that he is risking his family's lives by speaking out.

"It's worth it because what I'm doing is way bigger than myself because I'm trying to be the voice of all those innocent people," said Kanter.

"I play in the NBA and I have a very big platform and I'm using this platform for all those innocent people.

"I am risking everything. I'm risking my life. I'm risking my family. I'm risking everyone I love around me to stand up for human rights, stand up for freedom and stand up for democracy.

"I just try and tell people this is way bigger than basketball, this is way bigger than the NBA and this is way bigger than myself."

'He was deeply unhappy and stressed'

Nomia Iqbal on her interview with Kanter

When I spoke to Enes 11 days ago on the phone, things were different. He was deeply unhappy and stressed that his own New York Knicks team were citing "visa issues" as the reason he couldn't travel to London. It led to assumptions by many that he was - in his own words - "paranoid and crazy".

In person, he seemed visibly relaxed and calm. He was holding his travel documents to debunk the visa claim. He arrived for our interview with four of his friends, including his manager.

There are many who will still dismiss him as a political propagandist, taking one side of a deeply divisive conflict in Turkey. But it's one that has resulted in his parents being taken away from him. It'd be impossible for him to be unaffected.

Throughout our conversation, he said: "I'm just a basketballer." However, like several other sport stars in the US, he said he has no intention of keeping his politics and sport separate.

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