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Enes Kanter Freedom Testifies on Turkish Government’s Global Oppression of Dissidents at U.S. Congressional Hearing

Enes Kanter Freedom, a prominent human rights activist and former NBA player, recently made a significant appearance before a U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security subcommittee. Freedom’s testimony focused on the Turkish government’s far-reaching oppression of dissidents, even beyond its borders.

In a session titled “Protecting Dissident Voices – Addressing Transnational Repression Threats to National Security,” Freedom brought attention to the plight of thousands of Turkish citizens abroad who are affected by the Turkish government’s repressive tactics. He highlighted the growing human rights crisis in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime, emphasizing the global scope of Erdoğan’s influence.

During his testimony, Freedom shed light on the 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Turkey by the U.S. Department of State. He revealed that since 2016, Ankara has collaborated with other authoritarian regimes to forcibly return over a hundred Turkish citizens. Specifically, he pointed out the targeting of individuals associated with the Gülen Movement, a group deemed “terrorist” by the Turkish government.

Freedom recounted incidents of abductions of Gülen Movement members from various countries, including Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Notable examples he mentioned were Selahattin Gülen, Orhan İnandı, and Koray Vural. He also stressed that these victims often endure torture upon their return to Turkey.

Expanding on the issue of transnational repression, Freedom informed the subcommittee about the harassment faced by government critics living in Western countries, including journalists. He cited a case reported by Freedom House, where a Turkish journalist in the U.S. experienced bank account closures due to unfounded terrorism charges by the Turkish government. He highlighted the broader impact on individuals named in published lists, who face financial and personal hardships in Western countries.

Freedom also shared his personal ordeal with transnational pressures following his outspoken criticism of human rights abuses in Turkey. He detailed how the Turkish government sought his extradition from the U.S., canceled his passport, listed him on Interpol, imprisoned his father, and placed a $500,000 bounty on his head. He recounted his narrow escapes from abduction attempts in Indonesia and Romania, crediting his safe return to the U.S. to the intervention of Senator Lankford.

The testimony concluded with an overview of the broader context of Turkey’s transnational oppression tactics, which have been highlighted in numerous reports over recent years. While primarily targeting the Gülen Movement, these tactics also impact significant Kurdish figures abroad and journalists critical of the government in Europe. The crackdown on the Gülen Movement intensified after the 2016 failed coup, which Erdoğan blames on Fethullah Gülen, despite Gülen’s strong denial of any involvement in the coup or terrorist activities. This repression has led to a significant number of the Gülen movement’s followers fleeing Turkey to escape government persecution.

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