Boston Celtics star Enes Kanter says he felt encouraged to speak out against China after the NBA supported players in fighting other injustices and human rights issues.
In recent months, Kanter has used social media posts and specially designed clothing during NBA games to bring awareness to China’s treatment of the Uyghur community, Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
His posts and comments have caused a backlash in China with Celtics games being pulled by Chinese video-streaming site Tencent and the government criticizing the 29-year-old’s comments.
Kanter told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview that despite speaking out on issues such as Black Lives Matter, the NBA has stayed silent on China — highlighting its struggle in balancing player activism with the lucrative Chinese market.
“NBA made me do this,” Kanter said. “Because every time when one of the NBA teams or the commissioner comes out to speak, they say we are encouraging players to talk about whatever they want to talk about.
“We are giving freedom to our players to talk about all the injustices happening around the world, all the human rights abuses around the world. So, they gave me this right.”
Kanter says he sat down privately with NBA officials and commissioner Adam Silver, who says Silver has backed Kanter’s right to freedom of speech.
The Celtics center says he has no intention of breaking NBA rules but is concerned as to why the NBA has yet to release a public statement on the issue.
“If they were really supporting me, they would have put something out there. They would have put out some kind of statement,” he said.
“People think I do politics, I don’t do politics. I do human rights.”
CNN has reached out to the NBA for comment but has yet to receive a response.
Kanter, who was raised in Turkey, has also been vocal before in criticizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He faced death threats as a result and says his father was arrested but eventually acquitted of charges that he was a member of a terrorist group. Kanter has also not seen his family since 2015 after he says Turkey canceled his passport.
Despite this, Kanter says he is determined to keep using his platform to fight for change and will continue educating himself about various human rights issues regarding China.
A lot of his criticism has been based around the injustice felt by the Uyghur community — the US State Department estimates that up to two million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained in internment camps in China’s Xinjiang province since 2017.
China has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses in the region.
“There are so many athletes, so many actors, so many singers and so many people who have a platform that are speaking out about many of the issues out there in the world.
“But when it comes to China […] they are scared because they care too much about money, they care too much about business and they care too much about endorsement deals.
“To me, the human rights, and saving people’s lives, comes first.”
Chinese officials have continued to discredit Kanter’s claims and sent a statement to CNN prior to his interview on Wednesday.
“The so-called ‘cultural genocide’ in Tibet, human rights abuses in Xinjiang and ‘forced labor’ in China are groundless accusations and complete lies,” read a statement from the Chinese Embassy in London.
It added: “When it comes to the human rights situation in a country, it is the people of the country who are in the best position to make a judgment.
“Tibet and Xinjiang related issues are China’s internal affairs which brook no interference from outside forces.
Kanter has also called on Nike to do more in fighting against injustice in China, particularly criticizing its silence over the treatment of the Uyghur community.
He said the company was profiting from slave labor and called Nike athletes who speak out against other social justice issues “hypocrites” for not using their voice against China.
Earlier this year, Nike released a statement saying it did not source products from the Xinjiang region.
“Nike is committed to ethical and responsible manufacturing and we uphold international labor standards,” said the statement.
“We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
“Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region.”
Nike was not immediately available for comment about Kanter’s latest comments when asked by CNN.
China says the camps are vocational, aimed at combating terrorism and separatism, and has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses in the region.
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