LOS ANGELES — Enes Kanter will not travel to London when the New York Knicks play the Washington Wizards on Jan. 17, saying he fears for his life because of his ongoing clash with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kanter, a native of Turkey, has been an outspoken critic of the Turkish government and Erdogan. A Knicks’ team official said Kanter won’t travel because of a visa issue, but Kanter said he did not feel safe making the trip.
“Sadly, I’m not going because of that freaking lunatic, the Turkish president,” Kanter said after the Knicks’ 119-112 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. “There’s a chance that I can get killed out there. So that’s why I talked to the [Knicks’] front office. I’m not going.
“It’s pretty sad that just all this stuff affects my career and basketball, because I want to be out there helping my team win. But just because of that one lunatic guy, one maniac or dictator, I can’t even go out there and just do my job. So it’s pretty sad.”
Asked if he really believes that he could be killed if he travels to London, Kanter said, “Oh yeah, easy.”
“They’ve got a lot of spies there,” he said. “I can get killed very easy. That will be a very ugly situation.”
Kanter has said he believes the Turkish government has targeted his father in the past because of the player’s critical stance against the country’s government. In 2017, Kanter’s Turkish passport was canceled and he was held at a Romanian airport upon landing in Bucharest.
In 2016, Kanter spoke out against Erdogan following a bombing in Ankara, Turkey’s capital city. Kanter, who has received death threats, supports Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric who has been exiled from Turkey and is a bitter rival of Erdogan. The Turkish government has accused Gulen of masterminding a failed military coup in 2016. Gulen has denied the allegation.
According to a report by The New York Times, Erdogan has jailed, fired or suspended tens of thousands of people accused of plotting a failed coup. In December 2017, Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolu Agency, reported that prosecutors were seeking more than four years in prison for Kanter on charges of insulting Erdogan in a series of tweets he posted in 2016.
Kanter said he has avoided international travel for his safety, except for trips to Canada when the Knicks play the Toronto Raptors.
Said Kanter: “So I’m just going to stay here, just practice here.”