Star in N.B.A., Nonperson on Turkish TV: Enes Kanter Game Pulled
ISTANBUL — Basketball fans in Turkey were in uproar Wednesday after the main TV sports channel pulled the first game of the NBA Western Conference finals in an apparent attempt to keep the outspoken Portland Trail Blazers player Enes Kanter off Turkish screens.
Mr. Kanter is a Turkish citizen who has been a vocal critic of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s president, calling him “the Hitler of our century.” The athlete has been indicted on a charge of violating a law against insulting the president, according to pro-government newspapers.
Prosecutors have also sought an international arrest warrant for him because of his support for Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in exile in the United States and who is accused by Mr. Erdogan of instigating a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016.
S Sport, a popular sports channel widely available on national cable companies, did not broadcast the game between the Trail Blazers and the defending champion team, the Golden State Warriors. The Blazers lost, 116-94.
Basketball fans in Turkey were forced to find the match, which took place at 4 a.m. local time, online, without Turkish commentary.
Sports journalists and commentators said they were not surprised, given that Mr. Kanter’s matches and television advertisements have been repeatedly blocked since the coup attempt. In a sign of the political sensitivity surrounding Mr. Kanter, no Turkish sports journalist would be quoted by name on the issue.
Imre Eren, general manager of S Sport, did not directly address its failure to air the match, but was dismissive of the furor. In a written statement, he said that between S Sport, which is Turkey’s premier sports channel, and NBA TV, all of the Eastern and Western Conference semifinal and finals matches were viewable in Turkey.
“It’s almost as if there is an endeavor by certain media outlets to politicize the broadcast schedule of S Sport,” he wrote.
“There has been no pressure from the government to influence our broadcast schedule,” he wrote.
Under Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, Turkey’s media outlets have come under strong political pressure. Censors vet stories, and orders come from the presidential administration on what line they should follow on topical events.
Political opponents are given little airtime and critics of the government have often been accused of supporting terrorism.
Mr. Kanter has been open about being a follower of Mr. Gulen, who runs an organization from an expansive compound in Pennsylvania. Mr. Gulen has denied any involvement in the failed coup, but some of those on trial in Turkey for their role in the attempt, which left 250 people dead, have admitted to being members of his movement.
The issue has torn Mr. Kanter’s family apart. His father, Mehmet Kanter, an academic at a Turkish university, was dismissed from his post amid allegations of being a follower of Mr. Gulen. He later publicly disowned his son in a handwritten letter, saying that the NBA star had been hypnotized by Gulenists and was being used by them.
On Wednesday, sports fans vented their frustration at being denied their game, at times with some humor. They complained that they were being deprived of their viewing rights for political reasons.
“Bro, Enes is not my business,” one fan, Soner Sen, said on Twitter. I want to watch the game. This incident is a shame.”
A Turkish Portland fan site, Portland Turkiye, also protested on Twitter.
“We don’t want to watch our favorite team from illegal streaming websites,” it said. “We want what we deserve, we want what we paid for. We want to watch the WCF in our mother tongue. Basketball is bigger than just one player.”
And in a jibe at the type of vitriol often poured on Gulen supporters in Turkish state media, a fan who calls himself Ozgur wrote, “Wouldn’t it be better to broadcast Enes Kanter’s game and for the commentator to call him ‘bloodless cur, traitor dog, etc., whenever he grabs the ball.’ #WeDoNotWantCensorshipInSports.”
In a widespread government crackdown after the failed coup, more than 100,000 people have been prosecuted for belonging to Mr. Gulen’s group or aiding it, and 100,000 public officials have been purged from their jobs for having links to the movement.
Turkish prosecutors sought the arrest warrant for Mr. Kanter in January, accusing him of membership in a terrorist organization. The Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office also prepared an extradition request for Mr. Kanter, according to the pro-government Turkish newspaper Sabah.
Mr. Kanter was detained in Romania in 2017 after Turkey canceled his travel documents. In January, he canceled travel plans with his team to London for a game in case Turkish officials sought to have him arrested through an Interpol warrant.
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