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After Losing NBA Spot, Enes Kanter Freedom Becomes Nobel Prize Nominee for Speaking Out About China’s Human Rights Record

A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: February 23, 2022
Enes Kanter #11 of the Boston Celtics handles the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 02, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann via Getty Images)

Former Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom, says he has been shunned from the NBA after criticizing the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) treatment of Muslim Uyghurs and Tibetans, as well as raising awareness on the practice of forced organ harvesting against prisoners of conscience in China.

Last week, Freedom was traded by the Boston Celtics to the Houston Rockets and then promptly cut by his new team, leaving the veteran athlete unemployed for the first time in his ten-year professional basketball career. Although Freedom was one of the highest-rated back-up centers in the NBA, he believes that his activism may have cost him his career.

Born Enes Kanter in Switzerland on May 20, 1992, the athlete was raised in Turkey and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in November 2021. On that same day, he legally changed his last name, adding “Freedom” to his name. 

US Senator: Freedom on the ‘right side of history’

During an awards ceremony hosted by the Senate, the 29-year-old athlete was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a member of the Norwegian Parliament. 

Freedom was also warmly welcomed by Senators in Capitol Hill where Senate Republican Steering Committee chairman Mike Lee commended him for being “on the right side of history,” and demanded an answer from the NBA as to why he had been unceremoniously waived by the Houston Rockets.

“I would love an explanation from the NBA, I really would. I think a lot of people would very much like an explanation from them,” Lee told reporters. 

Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics wears sneakers condemning the Chinese regime’s human rights record. (Photo by Carmen Mandato via Getty Images)

On Feb. 21, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy also announced they had chosen Freedom as the recipient of their 2022 Courage Award. In addition, Freedom was invited to address the coalition of 25 international NGOs, scheduled to take place on April 6 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Summit described Freedom as an “NBA athlete and activist currently risking his career for speaking out against China’s persecution of ethnic Uyghurs and other minority groups in China.” 

According to the China Tribunal, a UK-based independent court set up to investigate the practice of forced organ harvesting in China, has concluded that around 1.5 million jailed people have been targeted and killed for their organs, mostly over the last two decades. 

The U.N. also published findings suggesting that more than one million Uyghur Muslims remain jailed in concentration camps across remote parts of western China. Organ harvesting from practitioners of Falun Gong and other prisoners of conscience also continues, aided in part by pharmaceuticals imported from the West.

Although the CCP maintains that the harvested organs are not from jailed prisoners of conscience but rather from volunteer “donated organs,” the findings suggest otherwise, highlighting a disturbing transplant trade worth an estimated $1 billion per year.

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Freedom: ‘I have no regrets’ 

When it comes to the NBA, “you can talk about all the social justice, all the injustices happening all around the world. But when it comes to China, you cannot speak up,” Freedom said at a ceremony hosted by advocacy group Committee on Present Danger: China in Washington on Feb. 17. “If you do, then you’d have to face the consequences.”

Freedom meets with Senate members in Capitol Hill on Feb. 17. (Image: via Twitter)

“I want to tell you guys that I have no regrets,” Freedom said. There are “more important things besides money and business such as morals, principles, and values,” adding that he would continue speaking out against abuses committed by the CCP. 

Freedom also led rallies in the U.S., encouraging Congress to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act – which would limit imports from areas where the CCP is engaging in oppression and violation of human rights against its ethnic minorities and persecuted religious groups.

The CCP responded to Freedom’s activism by banning Celtics games from being broadcast in China and added that Weibo, the country’s Twitter-like platform, would also censor posts about the player.

“From now on, our page will no longer report any information about the Boston Celtics, and our Weibo will stop updating!” read a post from Celtics Weibo Express. “For any behavior that undermines harmony of the nations and the dignity of the motherland, we resolutely resist!”

Freedom, however, continued condemning not only the CCP, but also called out large corporations such as Nike and Apple for engaging in corporate hypocrisy by profiting off of slave labor in China, yet promoting messages of social justice and freedom of expression in the West.