The US-based Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice on Tuesday announced they would honor activist and former NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom with the 2022 Lantos Human Rights Prize.
The Lantos Foundation is a non-profit foundation established by the late Congressman Tom Lantos, a holocaust survivor, to promote human rights and stand up for the basic values of freedom and justice.
Freedom said he was honored and humbled to receive the award, which recognized his human rights advocacy.
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, the president of the Lantos Foundation, said Freedom had enemies among the despots and dictators of the world, such as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and China’s President Xi Jinping.
“In an era where professional athletes live in fear of saying the wrong thing and losing coveted sponsor contracts or their spot on the roster, Mr. Kanter Freedom is the rare athlete who has used his platform and influence to stand up – and stand tall – for the causes he cares about, even when it puts him in the crosshairs of brutal regimes and cowardly sports franchises,” she said.
Adding that despite the fact that Freedom was at the beginning of his journey as a human rights champion, Swett said he had already shown a degree of courage and conviction that few people possess.
In response Freedom said receiving the Lantos Human Rights Prize, awarded in memory of one of America’s great human rights leaders, motivated him to continue this advocacy, even if it came at a personal cost.
“I feel grateful to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of those who are speechless and censored. I cannot – and will not – remain silent so long as I have a voice to raise in defense of those who suffer under brutal dictators or against those who are complicit in human rights violations,” he said.
Freedom, who had changed his name from Enes Kanter in November 2021, has since become a voice for the oppressed in China, Turkey and worldwide.
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 is 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 Erdoğan over the past few years.
Turkish prosecutors are already 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.