Enes Kanter, right, of New York Knicks grabs rebound against Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night (AFP)
New York Knicks center Enes Kanter, who is averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds this season, says he will not go to London for a game with his NBA team because he fears he could be assassinated for criticizing Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
Kanter, who is Turkish, expressed his fear after the Knicks' victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night, Reuters said. A video of his remarks was posted on Twitter. The Knicks are scheduled to play the Washington Wizards in London on 17 January.
“There is a chance I could get killed out there,” Kanter, a longtime critic of Erdogan, told reporters. “Its pretty sad that all the stuff affects my career and basketball because I want to be out there and help my team win."
Enes Kanter will not travel to London with the Knicks, saying he fears for his life because of his ongoing clash with the Turkish president.https://t.co/oG91u7KpKR
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 5, 2019
The Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported in December 2017 that a Turkish prosecutor had asked for Kanter to be jailed for up to four years for insulting Erdogan.
A Knicks official later said that Kanter was not traveling to London because of a visa issue, the New York Times reported. Kanter holds a US green card that allows him to live and work in the country on a permanent basis, but he currently has no passport.
Turkey revoked Kanter's passport in May 2017, and a Turkish court has declared him a fugitive for his support of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating an attempted coup in July 2016 – an accusation Gulen denies.
If Kanter were to return to Turkey, it is thought that he would be immediately arrested and detained, Sports Illustrated said.
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The basketball stars father, former professor Mehmet Kanter, was indicted in Turkey last year and charged with “membership in a terror group,” AP reported, although he had publicly disavowed his sons beliefs.
Kanter played for the Turkish national team at the 2011 European Championships but was controversially left out of the squad for the 2015 tournament.
He said it was because he had expressed support for Gulen, but national coach Ergin Ataman said his omission was because he had not apologised to teammates over "past incidents".
Since the coup attempt, more than 50,000 people have been jailed in Turkey pending trial and 150,000 state workers including teachers, judges and soldiers have been suspended or dismissed in a crackdown on alleged supporters of Gulen.