Enes Kanter Freedom, an activist and basketball player who was dropped from the NBA reportedly for speaking out against human rights abuses worldwide, received the 2022 Courage Award at the 14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
“I have been following the Geneva Summit for some years, and I have seen so many champions, so many heroes – that inspires me,” Freedom said at the award ceremony on Wednesday. “We are from different countries, different colors, different regions, but I feel like we need to unite and fight as one.”
Each year, the Geneva Summit presents two prestigious awards at its event: the Courage Award and the Women’s Rights Award. These awards are presented annually to outstanding individuals who show bravery and fortitude in upholding the values of the summit.
Freedom, who changed his name in November 2021, has since become a voice for the oppressed in China and worldwide. In interviews and by wearing his “freedom shoes,” he has spoken out for the rights of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hongkongers and others.
In February 2022 he was traded from the Boston Celtics to the Houston Rockets, who promptly dropped him. Many suspect the NBA is punishing him for speaking out against China and trying to silence him.
Freedom, who has lived mainly in the United States for more than a decade, has used his substantial platform as an international star athlete to condemn Turkey’s pivot towards authoritarianism under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over the past few years.
Turkish prosecutors are seeking a four-year prison sentence for his alleged membership in the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.
Turkey had canceled Freedom’s passport in 2017 and attempted to have him deported from Romania on May 20, 2017 during one of his international trips. His passport was briefly seized by the Romanian police upon a request from the Turkish government. The NBA said it had worked with the State Department to ensure his release in Romania.
Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen strongly denies involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.