Turkey bans Kurdish footballer Deniz Naki from professional football

Weeks after reporting that his car was shot at on a German motorway, midfielder Deniz Naki, the Amed SK player who is a supporter of Turkey’s Kurds, has been banned from Turkish football for more than three years.

The disciplinary council of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) banned Deniz Naki on Tuesday from all competitive matches for three years and six months, procedurally that equates to a lifetime ban in Turkey, for spreading “separatist and ideological propaganda.” Naki was also fined 273,000 Turkish lira (roughly €58,000), according to a report by Deutsche Welle.

The 28-year-old Kurdish-German midfielder had shared a video on social media over the weekend calling on Kurds and non-Kurds in Germany to participate in a rally in the city of Cologne against Ankara’s ongoing military operation in the Syrian city of Afrin. Authorities in Turkey have already arrested over 300 people for social media posts criticizing Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s campaign as a crackdown on public expressions of dissent continues.

Earlier in January, Naki said that his car had come under gunfire on Germany’s A4 highway, suggesting a rogue Turkish nationalist group in Germany might have been behind the shooting. Naki, a well-known critic of Erdoğan and his government’s anti-Kurdish policies, said he believed the attack was politically motivated and involved Turkish security agents “or somebody who doesn’t like my politics.”

Naki has played for Amed SK in Turkey’s second division, a club based in the city of Diyarbakır until recent times. After January’s shooting in Germany near the Dutch border, Naki was moved into protective custody. Naki has decided to terminate his contract with a club in Turkey and remain in Germany over concerns for his safety and well-being, his lawyer said over the weekend.

“The decision was not easy,” Naki’s Frankfurt-based lawyer Stephan Kuhn told the German news agency DPA. “Ultimately, his family and environment made that decision.”

German police said they were investigating the case and treating it as attempted murder. Naki said he believed the attack was politically motivated. “I assume (the attack) was an MİT agent or somebody else who doesn’t like my politics,” he stated. “I’m attacked on social media constantly.”

The Kurdish footballer has not been a stranger to controversy in the past. Last April, a Turkish judge gave Naki a suspended jail sentence of 18 months, accusing him of “spreading terrorist propaganda” for the outlawed PKK. PKK has also been classed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the EU. Also in 2016, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) handed him a 12-match ban for “ideological propaganda” linked to comments he made on social media in support of the Kurdish struggle in Turkey.

The midfielder grew up in Düren, near the German border to the Netherlands, and was part of the German team that won the 2008 under-19 European Championships. He has previously played in the Bundesliga and German second division with St. Pauli and Paderborn.

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