Flagrant Foul 2 – Enes Kanter and Turkey’s Crackdown on Freedom of Expression

New York Knicks Center Enes Kanter (Photo Source: Wikimedia)

Article By Minsoo Kim

Enes Kanter, a center for the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association (NBA), recently refrained from traveling to London with his team to play against the Washington Wizards for the 2019 NBA London Game. Kanter is an open supporter of Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish Muslim leader of a group labeled by Turkey’s government as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO). Kanter is also an outspoken critic of Turkey President Recep Erdogan, who blames FETO for a failed coup to overtake the Erdogan government in 2016.

Kanter stated he could not go to London because he feared for his life. He claims Erdogan’s long reach extends into London, where spies could easily kill him. Kanter’s fears of cold-blooded assassination may be justified, but international law provides for different barriers between Kanter and Turkey.

The Possibility of an “International Arrest Warrant”

Turkey media outlets claim that Turkish prosecutors are seeking an Interpol “Red Notice” for Kanter. Contrary to most news headlines covering this story, a “Red Notice” is not an international arrest warrant. It may be considered the closest thing to an international arrest warrant, but a “Red Notice” is distinct from an international arrest warrant. An Interpol “Red Notice” “is a request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition.” Interpol has not yet issued a “Red Notice” for Enes Kanter. Even if it is issued, the US would have no obligation to arrest him according to INTERPOL, “INTERPOL cannot compel any member country to arrest an individual who is the subject of a Red Notice. Each member country decides for itself what legal value to give a Red Notice within their borders.”

The Merits of a Potential Extradition Request

Turkish media outlets also report that Turkish prosecutors are seeking an extradition request for Kanter. Since there is an extradition treaty in place between the US and Turkey, both parties are bound to treaty’s terms like any other treaty. According to this treaty, a formal request “calls for an arrest warrant; a statement of facts of the case; evidence that the offense, though allegedly committed in Turkey, is prosecutable in the U.S.; and the text of the law under which the accused would be tried.”

However, parties to extradition treaties are not obliged to extradite an individual in every circumstance. Article 3(1)(a) of this extradition treaty states that “extradition shall not be granted” if the “Requested Party” considers that the offense at the heart of the request is of a “political character or an offense connected with such an offense; or if the Requested Party concludes that the request for extradition has, in fact, been made to prosecute or punish the person sought for an offense of a political character or on account of his political opinions. However, any offense committed or attempted against a Head of Government or a Head of State” or their family members is not considered a political offense.

Based on the terms of the treaty, it seems unlikely that Kanter will have to worry about extradition. Kanter’s alleged crimes are his connections to FETO and his financial support to the group. It is difficult seeing how connections with and financial support to a group could overcome the “political offense” exemption unless the failed coup could be construed as an offense committed against a Head of Government or State. There are allegations that the coup planned to assassinate Erdogan, but Turkey would need to substantiate this with evidence. There are differing views over the definition of this exemption to the “political offense” exemption, but even if those actions are sufficient for extradition, the issue would then turn to whether Kanter’s connections with FETO are such that he could be held accountable for the group’s offense.

Accordingly, Turkey faces many high hurdles to jump through to make a plausible case for extradition. Turkey may be bluffing, as they have not made an extradition request yet. If it was feasible for Turkey to go through the formal treaty channel to get Kanter, a somewhat well-known professional basketball player, it would also be able to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an important figure in some circles but unknown to the majority of US citizens. Turkey has been unsuccessful in the latter and “easier” case, so it seems unlikely that it will be successful in Kanter’s case.

Concerns over Turkey’s Methods of Quelling Dissidents

Turkey, as well as other countries such as Russia, have abused the “Red Notice” system. Turkey reportedly tried to file around 60,000 “Red Notices” since the failed coup of 2016. Based on these notices, “dozens of Turkish dissidents” in one region of Eastern Europe alone have been “hunted down” and “shipped back to torturers in Turkey.”

Turkey has also abducted people where extradition has failed. Kanter nearly faced that fate when Turkey issued a domestic arrest warrant and sought a “Red Notice” for him in May 2017. Turkey targeted Kanter in Indonesia, where he put on a children’s basketball camp for his charity. Thanks to a tip in the middle of the night, Kanter escaped to Singapore, and then to Romania, where he found out that Turkey had canceled his passport. As a result, Romania denied his entry into Bucharest, and he barely escaped back to the US thanks to the help of Oklahoma’s senators.

Erdogan took a strong stance against Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but this can only be seen as hypocritical virtue signaling if he does not hold himself to the same standard. Erdogan silenced opposition in staggering numbers, as seen in his jailing of around 77,000 people after the coup attempt. Erdogan used the Khashoggi tragedy to ratchet up pressure on the US to hand over Gulen. This casts doubts on his motives for calling for an international investigation into the death of Khashoggi. Reports state  White House officials inquired into ways to legally remove Gulen, presumably to appease Turkey for the killing of Khashoggi and thereby maintaining good relations with both Turkey and Saudi Arabia without risking antagonization of the other.

Conclusion

Turkey must be held accountable for its abuse of the “Red Notice” system and for resorting to inhumane measures to capture and silence dissidents living domestically and abroad. President Donald Trump may be in a tough foreign policy situation, but the US must not compromise its moral values and capitulate to the demands of foreign strongmen. There is likely no easy solution to the larger problem of Turkey’s human rights record, and one could certainly argue that the US is in no position to try to solve it at all. However, the US can at least trust that current international law will  likely not allow Turkey to secure the extradition of Kanter.

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