NBA's Kanter calls for end of Uyghur genocide

Over 120,000 Uyghurs are detained in “re-education camps,” though the true number may be as large as one million.

Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter (11) reacts against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at the United Center (photo credit: MIKE DINOVO/USA TODAY SPORTS)
Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter (11) reacts against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at the United Center
(photo credit: MIKE DINOVO/USA TODAY SPORTS)

NBA Center Enes Kanter called for China’s leader Xi Jinping to end the persecution of Uyghur peoples in a video posted on Twitter last Friday.

Kanter, who is of Turkish nationality and has spoken out about various social causes in the past, urged the ruling Communist Party of China to end what he called the genocide of members of the Uyghur ethnic group. The Chinese government has subsequently stopped streaming Boston Celtics games, as Kanter plays for the Celtics.

Kanter called on the “heartless Dictator of China” Xi Jinping to end the detention and persecution of Uyghurs in his 3-minute-long video. “I am calling you out in front of the whole world. Close down the SLAVE labor camps and free the UYGHUR people," he said. “Stop the GENOCIDE, now! #FreeUyghurs,” he added on the video's caption.

Kanter also called out fellow prominent Muslim athletes Mohamed Salah and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, along with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin-Salman, and Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, saying “it's shameful and sad that you have chosen to prioritize money and business with China over human rights.”

“You call yourself Muslims, but you are just using that for show.”

Performers travel past Tiananmen Square next to a float showing late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong during the parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2019 (credit: REUTERS/JASON LEE)Performers travel past Tiananmen Square next to a float showing late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong during the parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2019 (credit: REUTERS/JASON LEE)

Kanter is no stranger to social activism. He is openly critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, once calling him the "Hitler of our century" on Twitter. He supported the 2016 failed coup of Erdoğan, backing rival Fethullah Gülen, and has had his Turkish passport revoked.

Kanter’s father has faced arrest and was dismissed from his University position due to Kanter’s political activism. In 2017 he was visited by Indonesian government officials while on a summer basketball camp tour, leading him to leave Indonesia immediately amid fears of being detained. When flying into Romania, where another camp was planned to be held, Kanter was denied admission into the country and was informed by Romanian officials that his passport had been canceled by the Turkish embassy.

Kanter's political activism has had its costs, as Kanter finds himself unable to contact friends and family back in Turkey out of fears that his conversations are being tapped by Erdoğan's government. Kanter has also eschewed international trips, deciding against traveling to London with the New York Knicks or Toronto with the Portland Trailblazers in 2019, citing fears of being detained by forced working on behalf of the Turkish government. Turkey placed a global extradition request on Kanter in 2019, also requesting that Interpol put a red notice for his arrest. According to Interpol's website, no red notice was issued.

Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group native to Central and East Asia. The Uyghur population totals 13.5 million people worldwide —12.8 million of whom live in Western China. Most Uyghurs identify as Muslim, with Islam playing a central role in Uyghur culture.

China has cracked down against Uyghurs – among the most prominent of China’s officially recognized 55 ethnic minority groups – since 2014, citing threats of terrorism and “religious extremism.” Curbs imposed by the Chinese government include restrictions on movement, mass surveillance, forced family separation, and even detention in what the Chinese government calls “re-education camps.”

Over 120,000 Uyghurs are detained in these “re-education camps,” though the true number may be as large as one million. The camps are meant to break the “indoctrination” of those detained and teach them Chinese language, culture, and Chinese Communist Party ideology. The camps have been heavily criticized for alleged human rights abuses – including physical abuse and torture – by many governments and human rights organizations.

China claims to have winded down persecution of Uyghurs since the start of 2020, though the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) reported that construction of camps continued despite the claims, with 380 camps and detention centers identified. According to over 400 pages of internal Chinese government documents leaked in 2019 by the New York Times, which outlined the government’s plans regarding Uyghur Muslims, Chinese President Xi compared Islamic extremism to viruses and addictive drugs, adding that addressing it requires "a period of painful, interventionary treatment."

“We must be as harsh as them and show absolutely no mercy,” Xi said in a 2014 speech.