New Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter said he was harassed outside of a Cambridge mosque Friday afternoon because of his political opposition to Turkey’s president.
Kanter, a 6-11 Turkish basketball player signed by Boston this summer, posted a video to Twitter that showed him and teammate Tacko Fall outside the Islamic Society of Boston on Prospect Street, which is a short walk away from Inman Square. In the video, at least two men can be seen addressing Kanter. One of them holds a cellphone.
Kanter, who is expected to be Boston’s starting center this season, is a vocal critic of Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, previously referring to him as “the Hitler of our century.” Erdogan has been accused of increasingly authoritarian tendencies. In the Friday video, the Celtics player indicates the two men are his fellow countrymen who support Erdogan.
“They’re actually starting a fight outside of a mosque, pro-Erdogan people,” he said in the video.
Hello Everyone!#DictatorErdogan @RTErdogan thugs attacked and threatened me today after Friday prayer in Boston at a mosque— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 4, 2019
Turkish Government don't even let me practice my religion freely in America let alone my freedom of speech is under attack@FBI@FBIBoston@bostonpolice pic.twitter.com/FH2Ixe6QcY
Later, in a phone interview with the Globe, Kanter said he had never seen the two men before and that they cursed at him, called him “traitor,” indicated that he should not be here, and made an obscene gesture at him. He said that when he and Fall, a 7-foot-7 rookie, left Friday’s prayer service, the men were waiting for him outside. There, the men caused a scene, yelling and screaming at him, Kanter said.
“I told you America, this is crazy,” Kanter said in the video.
Kanter told the Globe that he has tried to stand up “for human rights, democracy, and freedom” and to bring awareness of “what’s really going on in Turkey.”
“I’m not going to back down,” he said.
He called the harassment unacceptable and said he was shocked by the incident.
“It’s a mosque, it’s a house of God, this shouldn’t happen,” he said.
Kanter said he spoke with the Celtics’ security after the incident. Messages left with the Celtics were not immediately returned Friday evening.
“I shouldn’t be feeling uncomfortable or insecure while critiquing anyone, but unfortunately even in America they make me feel this insecurity — can you even imagine how people in Turkey feel?” Kanter said in a statement texted to the Globe Friday night.
A Cambridge police spokesman said the department had received no formal reports regarding the incident as of 6:15 p.m. Friday.
Kanter has drawn the ire of the Turkish government for his political dissidence throughout his eight-year NBA career.
Using language like “terrorist” and “coup,” the local Turkish Consulate recently tried to shut down Kanter’s 50th free basketball camp of the offseason, according to Kanter and his manager. Hosted at UMass Boston last Saturday, the camp went on as planned because university officials denied the consulate’s request, they said.
Over the summer, Kanter claimed another free camp was cancelled because the Turkish consultate in New York City pressured the mosque hosting the event to nix it.
Alper Aktas, the Turkish consul general in New York, denied thosee allegations, saying there were no threats and no intimidation. A spokesman for the mosque also denied the organization was bullied by the consulate.
Earlier this year, The New York Times, citing pro-government newspapers, reported Kanter was indicted on a charge of violating a law against insulting Turkey’s president, and prosecutors in the country have sought an international arrest warrant for the basketball player because of his support for a Muslim cleric who lives in exile in the US.
Erdogan has accused the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, of instigating a coup attempt against him. Turkish authorities have arrested thousands of people thought to be supporters of Gulen since the failed coup. Gulen has denied involvement in the attempted overthrow.
Kanter has said Turkish authorities cannot present “any single piece of evidence of my wrongdoing.”
In May, when Kanter’s team, the Portland Trail Blazers, were in the playoffs and there was a chance they would face the Toronto Raptors for the title, US Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking his government to facilitate Kanter’s safe passage to and from Canada if the Blazers made the championship round, according to the Associated Press.
The Golden State Warriors swept Portland in the Western Conference finals, making the matter moot.
In March, the Associated Press reported Kanter did not travel with the Blazers to Toronto while on a road trip, fearing reprisal for his outspoken disapproval of Erdogan.
During his stint with the New York Knicks earlier in the season, Kanter did not travel for a January game in London because he feared he could be killed or attacked.
Kanter’s passport Turkish passport was revoked in 2017 and he was detained in a Romanian airport before being released.
In July, Kanter met with Wyden and Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, to discuss his ability to travel outside the US for the upcoming season.