The father of Enes Kanter, a Turkish player for the U.S. professional basketball association's New York Knicks and an outspoken critic of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was sentenced to 15 years in a Turkish prison Monday.
Mehmet Kanter was charged with "being a member of a terrorist organization." Mehmet Kanter is currently not in Turkey, ESPN reported, but is at risk of being detained upon his return. His whereabouts are unknown.
In a statement to Bleacher Report, Enes Kanter said he believes his father's arrest was in response to the basketball star's vocal criticism of the government. Enes Kanter has called Erdogan the "Hitler of our century," and accused the Turkish president of "genociding his opponents."
"I will continue to keep fighting for Human Rights and Freedom of Speech, Justice and Democracy above all," he wrote on Twitter. "I will stand for what I believe in. All I'm doing is trying to be voice of innocent people."
In 2016, Enes Kanter was reportedly disowned by his family because of his opposition to Erdogan, as well as his support of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam exiled from the country and blamed by the Erdogan government for a failed attempted coup that year. Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999, denied any involvement.
The elder Kanter wrote in a pro-government Turkish newspaper, The Daily Sabah, "I apologize to the Turkish people and the president for having such a son." In response, Enes Kanter temporarily changed his surname on Twitter to Gulen.
In May 2017, while returning to the United States from a charity trip in Indonesia, Enes Kanter was detained in Romania following the cancellation of his Turkish passport. Later that month, The Daily Sabah reported that Erdogan's government had issued an arrest warrant for the basketball player, claiming he was a member of a "terror group."
Later that year, Turkish state-run media outlet Anadolu reported prosecutors had indicted the younger Kanter, seeking to try him in absentia. Enes Kanter told Vice News back then that he believed the Turkish government would kill him should he be imprisoned. He declared himself stateless and currently has a green card in the United States, seeking full citizenship.
The Erdogan regime has a history of jailing political dissidents. Since the 2016 attempted coup, more than 50,000 people have been jailed, and 150,000 have lost their jobs, the BBC reported in 2018. The United Nations has condemned Erdogan for creating an "environment conducive to torture."
In March, 25 journalists in the country were sentenced to jail over alleged links to the failed coup.
Presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey are currently scheduled for June 24.