What is Enes Kanter afraid of? — Political Intrigue and International Travel in the NBA

Mar 1, 2019

By Ryan Chen
Global geopolitics and NBA international games clash in a curious case of NBA player Enes Kanter. The ninth NBA London Game was held at the O2 Arena on January 17th featuring a match between the New York Knicks and the Washington Wizards. While the Wizard overcame a 16-points deficit and won the game dramatically, Knicks center Enes Kanter did not play a minute. Kanter, a Swiss born Turkish center, as well as a United States green card holder, was the third overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft. This eight-year veteran has scored an average 14.4 points and 10.8 rebounds for the Knicks this season so far, decided not to travel overseas fearing he could be potentially assassinated by the Turkish spies. Kanter identifies himself as a supporter of Fethullah Gülen, an exiled Turkish dissident accused by Turkey’s government as the mastermind behind the failed Turkish coup in 2016. Turkey’s government indicted Kanter in 2017 based on his tweets criticizing President Tayyip Erodgan posted during the coup. He could be facing a four-year sentence according to Istanbul’s public prosecutor.
The New York Knicks claimed that Kanter could not attend the London game because of a visa issue. Kanter’s passport was canceled by the Turkish government in 2017 during his trip to Romania. As of right now, unlike many people in the world, Kanter does not hold any valid passport; his only legal identity is a United States green card holder. Per United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a green card, officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, allows an individual to live and work permanently in the United States. There are a few exceptional countries that offers visa waiver for U.S. green card holders; but the U.K. is not on the list. According to the USCIS, a green card holder can reenter the U.S. with an unexpired green card along with some additional documents; yet, this person “needs to present a passport from your country of citizenship or your refugee travel document to travel to a foreign country”. In addition, only those who obtain a green card as a result of the refugee status are able to apply for a refugee travel document. Kanter received his green card in 2016 and lost his Turkish passport in 2017; it is not likely that his green card is linked with refugee status. Therefore, except for Canada, Enes Kanter does not have the authority to travel outside the U.S. and play in London. However, as noted by Michael McCann from Sports Illustrated, Kanter could become a U.S. citizen in 2021 under U.S. immigration law, since he would be a permanent resident for five years by that time. This offers Kanter options for the future.
How about assassination? Before the London game, Kanter said “They’ve got a lot of spies there. I think I can get killed there easy. It would be a very ugly situation”. A series of cases indicate that the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey (Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı or MIT) was involved in a number of espionage activities including assassination in some European nations such as France, Germany, and England. A Kurdish man was shot in London in 1994 was later found associated with the MIT. In 2013, the MIT murdered three Kurdish women activists in Paris. Espionage and spying activities linked with the MIT is even more frequent in Germany since there is a large number of Turkish population resides in the nation. Though no major activity has been reported in the United States, it is still memorable that Erdogan’s bodyguards beat protesters near the Turkish ambassador’s house after his meet with President Donald Trump in 2017.
In addition to the potential assassination, Kanter also fears that he could be extradited from Britain to Turkey. Extradition means a person is sent back to the country or state where he or she has been accused of a crime. As reported by the state-run news agency Anadolu in Turkey, Istanbul’s prosecutors were seeking the extradition of Kanter; they had requested a red notice through Interpol. According to the official definition, an Interpol red notice is not an international arrest warrant. It is requested by a member country. In other words, the subject of the red notice is wanted by that specific country rather than the Interpol. Thus, the Interpol cannot force its member country to arrest the subject; it simply alert police over the world. The decision of arrest is determined by each country. In this case, if Turkey does submit a red notice request to the Interpol, Britain has the authority to make the final decision of arresting Kanter. Moreover, if Turkey seeks to extradite Kanter, as a part of the extradition agreement between Turkey and the U.K., it needs to request and initiate a formal extradition process to the British Secretary of State. This process includes a certificate from the Secretary of State, issue of a warrant, arrest and preliminary hearing, extradition hearing, and a series of appealing procedure. Surly these are all hypothetical unless Kanter decides to visit London for a few days. But still, the extradition process is time-consuming.
Meanwhile, Kanter received support from the NBA and the Knicks. Commissioner Adam Silver spoke prior to the London game to support Kanter’s decision: “I will say that there is nothing more important to be than the security of our players and we take very seriously the threat that he received even if it was just on social media”. Knicks owner James Dolan was also fine with Kanter missing the London game. After missing the London game, Kanter played 19 minutes in the game against Oklahoma City Thunder four days later.
Ryan Chen is a doctoral student of sport management at Florida State University.
Associated Press. Knicks’ Kanter will not travel to London NBA game due to assassination
fears. The Guardian. Jan 5, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/jan/05/enes-kanter-recep-tayyip-erdogan-nba-assassination-fears-nba
Brito, Christopher. Turkey Seeks Extradition for Knicks’ Enes Kanter over Ties to Dissident
Cleric. CBS News. Jan 17, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/turkey-enes-kanter-arrest-extradition-interpol-recep-tayyip-erdogan-knicks-citizenship/
McCann, Michael. Taking Stock of Enes Kanter’s Citizenship with impending London Game
Absence. Sports Illustrated. January 05, 2019 https://www.si.com/nba/2019/01/05/enes-kanter-knicks-london-game-citzenship-green-card-turkey-president-erdogan
Woods, Mark. Adam Silver: ‘Nothing More Important’ than Safety of NBA’s Players. ESPN.
January 18, 2019. http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/25787333/nba-commissioner-adam-silver-says-enes-kanter-situation-turkey-very-unfortunate


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