NBA player Enes Kanter, who has openly criticized the government in his home country of Turkey, received some support Friday in the form of a letter written on his behalf to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The letter, written by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., urges Pompeo to help defend Kanter, the target of an international arrest warrant issued by the administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In January, Kanter -- now a member of the Portland Trail Blazers -- declined to accompany his previous team, the New York Knicks, on a trip to London, out of fear that he could be killed because of his opposition to Erdogan.
"President Erdogan has responded like many thin-skinned autocrats before him, by going after Mr. Kanter and his family," Wyden wrote to Pompeo. "America cannot and must not stay silent in the face of such a blatant assault on free thought and expression. This is even truer when the perpetrators of such odious behavior are supposed friends and allies."
Wyden has asked Pompeo to advocate for Kanter with the Turkish government, Willamette Week reported.
"America cannot and must not stay silent in the face of such a blatant assault on free thought and expression," Wyden wrote to Pompeo. "I call on you to raise Mr. Kanter's case, publicly and in private, and to state for the record that the U.S. will not cooperate with 'red notices' or extradition requests."
Pompeo, too, has had clashes with the Turkish government. In January, the country's Foreign Ministry criticized Pompeo for saying Washington wanted to prevent Turkey from "slaughtering" Kurds as American troops prepare to withdraw from Syria, the Associated Press reported.
Istanbul’s chief prosecutor’s office has prepared an extradition request for Kanter, according to Turkey’s Sabah newspaper.
The player also has support from Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Muslim cleric and Erdogan rival, compounding his status as a political target of the Turkish government, according to the Oregonian.
Kanter first spoke out against Erdogan in 2016 following a bombing in Ankara, Turkey's capital city, and has since endured death threats and international travel issues, the paper reported.
In January, former Turkish NBA player Hedo Turkoglu, now a chief adviser to Erdogan, slammed Kanter over his decision to skip the Knicks' game in London.
Turkoglu, the current president of the Turkish Basketball Federation, accused Kanter of “trying to get in the limelight with irrational justifications and political remarks.”
Kanter told reporters in January that he planned to skip the London game against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 17 because he believes he could be assassinated for his support for a U.S.-based Turkish cleric accused by Turkey’s government of masterminding a failed military coup in 2016. He also then called the Erdogan a "freaking lunatic."
When asked if he really thought he could be killed if he went to Britain, he replied, “Oh yeah, easy. They’ve got a lot of spies there. I think I can get killed there very easy. It would be a very ugly situation.”
Turkoglu said Kanter’s remarks amounted to a “smear campaign” against Erdogan.