NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom, a prominent critic of Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says a top Democratic senator told him President Biden is too “scared” to meet with him to discuss human rights.
The Boston Celtics star, whose parents are Turkish, has called Erdogan the “Hitler of our century” for his crackdown on dissent. He also blasted Chinese President Xi Jinping as an “insecure tyrant” ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
“I was actually having lunch in the Senate with one of the really, really big senators, and he was a Democrat too, and I asked him, I was like, ‘Listen, do you think President Biden knows my story?’ And the senator said, ‘Absolutely,’” the former NY Knicks star said in a podcast released this week.
“And I asked him, I was like, ‘I have been trying to, you know, have a conversation with him since the day he took office. Why is he not accepting our invitation?’ And he’s like, ‘Listen, I understand he knows all the human rights violations and political prisoners in Turkey, but Turkey is still a NATO ally. And obviously, America doesn’t want to go to war with Turkey. And him, the president, meeting with you is pretty much a screw you to President Erdogan. So that’s why he is pretty much scared to have a conversation with you.’”
“I was shocked,” Freedom said. “I was like, ‘So you tell me the most, I guess, the most powerful person in the world and most powerful house in the world are scared to meet with a 29-year-old NBA player? And he’s like, ‘unfortunately.’”
Freedom added: “I know that they got our invitation because I have so many politician friends and unfortunately it’s just, I guess, it’s politics. But I feel like they should definitely more focus [sic] on the human rights part.”
The White House did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
Freedom changed his surname from Kanter in November to celebrate becoming a US citizen. He is a supporter of Erodgan’s arch-enemy, Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Erdogan, an elected Islamist in power since 2003, launched a crackdown on free speech following an alleged 2016 coup attempt that he claims Gulen orchestrated. The US has repeatedly refused Erdogan’s request to deport Gulen.
Although Turkey is a NATO ally, the US-Turkish relationship has been strained in recent years, including by Erdogan’s support for rebel groups in Syria and Libya and his detention of US citizens.
Erdogan notoriously watched in 2017 as his guards attacked US citizens after a White House meeting with then-President Donald Trump. Fifteen guards were charged criminally, though charges against 11 of them were mysteriously dropped in 2018. Erdogan claimed Trump apologized for the prosecution of his men, who were allowed to flee the US without being placed under arrest and therefore are unlikely to ever face trial. Congress blocked an arms sale to Turkey as punishment for the attack.
In a major rift with Erdogan, Trump in 2018 ordered sanctions against Turkey’s interior and justice ministers over the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson, who ultimately was released.
In 2019, Erdogan attacked US-allied Kurds in Syria after Trump issued a blistering warning to Erdogan not to be a “tough guy” or “fool.” Turkish troops still occupy part of northern Syria.
In 2020, the US sanctioned Turkey for signing a reported $2.5 billion deal with Russia to buy S-400 surface-to-air missiles.
At points, Biden also has been critical of Erdogan.
In April, Biden recognized as a genocide the World War I slaughter of Armenians by Turks and Kurds, despite a warning from Erdogan not to do so. And in 2020, Biden denounced Erdogan for turning the Hagia Sophia, a nearly 1,500-year-old former Byzantine church, from a museum into a mosque.
However, US journalists were outraged in June when Biden aides abruptly disinvited press from a meeting between Biden and Erdogan in Brussels — forcing reporters to rely on Erdogan’s government, which regularly jails journalists, for information. Biden and Erdogan met again in October during the G20 summit in Rome.