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Kanter may be safe, legal experts say, but remains a man without a country

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OKC Thunder star Enes Kanter had his Turkish passport revoked and a warrant for his arrest issued
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- On May 26, Oklahoma City Thunder NBA star Enes Kanter became a man without a country.

The 25-year-old basketball star, who was born in Switzerland and raised in Turkey, had his Turkish passport revoked in May as he was traveling through Romania on his way back to the United States. A vocal critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supporter of Erdogan opponent Fethullah Gulen, Kanter escaped in the middle of the night from Indonesia but was detained in Romania due to the canceled passport.

Turkish officials also issued an arrest warrant for Kanter on May 26, accusing the NBA star of conspiring against the Erdogan government with Gulen supporters through an encrypted messaging app. A judge in Turkey issued a warrant for his arrest following an investigation into his alleged association with the separatist leader, who was accused of staging an unsuccessful coup to overthrow President Erdogan last July.

According to an article in the Turkish newspaper AFP, Kanter was accused of “membership [in] an armed terrorist organization.”

Kanter is back on U.S. soil and has talked publically about the turn of events. He’s no stranger to controversy, opening backing Gulen and likening Erdogan to Adolf Hitler. Although Gulen has denied plotting against the Turkish government, his Hizmet movement publically renounces Erdogan’s government.

So what does this all mean for Enes Kanter and his future in the NBA and America?

According to Bill Zuhdi, Oklahoma City federal criminal defense attorney specializing in complex civil litigation, Kanter should be safe as long as he remains in the United States, despite a 1981 extradition treaty signed between Turkey and the U.S.

 “The arrest warrant out of Turkey is because he is an opponent to Erdogan because of the human rights violations. I think the whole thing is bogus and wrong. I do not think it will impact him as long as he remains in the U.S. and Canada,” Zuhdi said. “Turkey has no jurisdiction in the U.S. and Canada, but it will impact him because he has no passport. He puts himself at risk if he travels outside of the U.S. and Canada.”

Kanter himself also does not seem worried about the warrant. He posted on Twitter, "You cannot catch me. Hahaha. Don't waste your energy.” Kanter shared his thoughts in an intimate essay on The Player’s Tribune on May 23, saying “In one second, I was country-less. Just like that. It was a very weird birthday. It is crazy how a government can take away your right to go home. Or your freedom to travel. Not for any actual crimes, but for what you say or what you believe.”

EXTRADITION AND INTERPOL

Although most experts believe that the Turkish arrest warrant has “no teeth” when it comes to Kanter, Turkey could petition the U.S. to extradite the player. The Turkish government would have a tough sell to make an extradition request stick, however.

“They have to prove that the reasons are not a political witch hunt, but that he is actually involved in terrorist activities,” said Zuhdi. “Kanter is high-profile and is a huge name in both Turkey and the U.S.”

According to the extradition terms laid out in the 1981 extradition treaty between the two countries, Turkey would have to explain why they are charging Kanter, show evidence that Kanter is guilty and also prove that the charges would also be considered a crime in the U.S.

According to the treaty, extradition cannot be granted if the request is of a political character or when the arrest is made “on account of his political opinions.”

Zuhdi added that any extradition attempts between Turkey and the U.S. would likely take months or years to navigate as well.

Turkey may also turn to Interpol, or the International Criminal Police Organization, for assistance. Interpol, however, does not have the ability to serve an international arrest warrant but can issue “Red Notices” to member countries that share information about alleged crimes and movements of the person accused. A red notice still does not require the U.S. to arrest or detain Kanter because all arrests through the U.S. must comply with the Fourth Amendment and show probable cause.

“But I do worry about him,” Zuhdi said. “He put himself in some jeopardy, and I worry about his safety. It is never good to have your home country coming after you. If he did find a way to leave the country without a passport due to his stature, he might put himself in jeopardy for arrest.”

Kanter has also said that he is interested in becoming a U.S. citizen. He currently has a green card, which allows him to be a permanent residence of America, but would still have to go through the U.S. citizenship process to become a citizen of the United States.

“He’s on the right track right now because he already has a green card,” Zuhdi said. “The next step is citizenship, which would be quicker if he was married to a U.S. citizen.  If not, then it takes about five years to become a citizen.”

Kanter’s fame and stature as an NBA player likely would not speed up the process, however.

“If the president comes in and puts his weight behind it, it could be fast-tracked through, but typically everyone has to go through the same process,” Zuhdi said. “That’s the beautiful thing about America. He would have to get in line and take the test like everyone else.

LOSING FAMILY, LOSING LAND

Kanter is never shy about sharing his thoughts about his home country, but today, that country has rejected him. He is also estranged from his parents who remain in Turkey over comments denouncing Erdogan.

Erdogan was elected to president in 2014, and has since been accused of human rights violations and cracking down on the freedom of the press. He has jailed journalists and university professors, and in April, he won a controversial referendum giving him power over the other branches of the Turkish government.

In July, the Turkish Armed Forces launched a coup against the state and Erdogan, but the effort was short-lived and unsuccessful. According to the World Report Watch 2017 by the organization Human Rights Watch, the attempted coup left at least 241 citizens and government law enforcement dead. After the failed attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and went after public officials, police, teachers, judges and prosecutors. Most of those jailed, dismissed or suspended were accused of being followers of the US-based cleric Gulen.

“Government-led efforts to silence media criticism and scrutiny of government policy in Turkey involved five main trends: the prosecution and jailing of journalists; takeover of media companies—including the daily Zaman newspaper—by appointing government-approved trustees and seizing assets and the closing down of media; removal of critical television stations from the main state-owned satellite distribution platform and their closure; physical attacks and threats against journalists; and government pressure on media to fire critical journalists and cancel their press accreditation. Blocking of news websites critical of the government also increased. Turkey made the highest number of requests to Twitter of any country to censor individual accounts,” the report states.

As for Kanter, his essay in The Players’ Tribune also touched upon why he speaks out.

“I’m O.K., but I’m also not O.K., you know? I am lucky. My story has a happy ending. There are thousands of other Turkish people out there with stories that don’t have happy endings. They are not so lucky,” he wrote.

“You guys need to know what is going on in Turkey right now. I hope people around the world will open their eyes to the human rights abuses. Things have gotten very bad over the last year. This is not my opinion. We don’t know everything that is happening inside Turkey, but we do know some facts. Newspapers and media have been restricted. Academics have been fired. Peaceful protesting is not allowed. Many people have been imprisoned without any real charges. There are reports of torture and rape and worse. Just think about it. If the Erdogan government will treat an NBA player this way, how do you think it is for everyone else?”

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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