“I say ‘this regime needs to go’ because they’re violating so many human rights,” Freedom said during a wide-ranging interview with Jan Jekielek on “American Thought Leaders.”
“There is no freedom of speech, religion, expression, movement, or protest [in communist China].”
Freedom recently launched the Enes Kanter Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting for civil rights in countries with despotic regimes, including China. It was important for him, he said, to choose a non-governmental medium for his advocacy because he considers the issue of human rights to be universal.
“Human rights is the one thing that is going to connect both right and left,” Freedom said. “That’s what I’m hoping.”
With that in mind, Freedom said that it was important that all Americans understand the tragedies unfolding under authoritarian regimes such as that of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state.
‘Help Those People’
Freedom recalled the first time he became aware of the depth of depravity associated with the CCP’s suppression of predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province, which the United States has recognized as a genocide.
Following a meeting with a Chinese family, Freedom requested to meet with a survivor of the CCP’s concentration camps in Xinjiang who had subsequently fled to the United States.
“We sat down and we had a one-hour conversation,” Freedom said. “She was telling me about all the torture methods. She was telling me about the gang rape. She was telling me about organ harvesting and forced sterilization and abortion.”
Freedom was astounded at hearing the woman’s first-person account of torture and rape, and more astounded when she told him that she needed no help from him.
“At the end of our one-hour conversation, I asked her, ‘Okay, how can I help you?’ She said, ‘I’m good. I don’t need your help. I don’t want you to help me.’”
“She said, ‘I’m good. I’m in America. I can go wherever I want. I can say whatever I want. I can eat whatever I want. Don’t help me. Help those people in concentration camps.’”
Following that conversation, Freedom began sounding the alarm about the CCP’s atrocities in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet, and elsewhere.
Inspired by the players who had worn political messages on their jerseys in support of other civil rights movements, Freedom had the idea to wear shoes at each game he played that featured artistic calls to action about the CCP’s many human rights abuses.
For his first game with the shoes, Freedom chose to wear a pair of sneakers that said “Free Tibet.”
Two members of the Boston Celtics staff, the team whom he played for at the time, approached him before the game began and told him that he would need to take off his shoes in order to play.
“It was a perfect moment for me because I was just getting ready for my citizenship test,” said Freedom, who is originally from Turkey. “So I was like, okay, there are 27 Amendments. My First Amendment is freedom of speech.”
“I told them I’m not taking my shoes off even if I get fined. I’m not taking them off. And they said, ‘We’re not talking about a fine, we’re talking about getting banned.’”
Freedom refused. He was benched and, for the first time that season, played zero minutes.
He checked his phone at halftime to find a message from his manager. It informed him that the CCP had banned every Celtics game from being televised in China.
“That pretty much shows the dictatorship and the censorship that is happening and how scared they are,” Freedom said.
“The biggest dictatorship in the world can control a 100-percent American-made organization and put pressure on them to fire an American citizen.”
Freedom’s contract was waived in February and he has since been an unsigned free agent. He will not announce his retirement because he wants others to know that the real reason he isn’t playing is that the league is caving to pressure from the Chinese communist regime.
CCP is ‘Trying to Invade America’
Despite the NBA’s torpedoing of his career under CCP pressure, Freedom believes that the problem of transnational repression goes much deeper, and pervades innumerable institutions throughout the United States.
“The NBA is not the only one,” Freedom said. “You see Hollywood. You see Big Tech. You see academies. You see Wall Street. You see Congress and local Congresses.”
“They’re pretty much trying to invade America from the inside because they know they’re not strong enough to invade America from the outside.”
Freedom notes that hundreds of athletes, coaches, teams, and other celebrities vocally championed the causes of Black Lives Matter and the war in Ukraine. In those instances, however, Freedom said they had nothing to lose.
But hen the CCP threatens their cash flow, he said, they sing a different tune.
“How many of these companies, organizations, CEOs, and people will stand with Taiwan?” Freedom said.
“All of my Boston Celtics coaches went to a game with the Ukraine [flag] pin on their chest. If China ever attacks Taiwan, would you go out there with a Taiwanese flag on your chest? Zero percent chance. Zero. That is the hypocrisy. That is the one thing that kills me. They really do not care, I promise you.”
Faith and Freedom
As a Muslim with friends and colleagues who are Jews and Christians, Freedom said that the freedom to practice one’s religion without fear of repercussion was central to any free society, and that his faith was central to his own efforts to empower the oppressed.
“I think my faith asks me to be a good person,” Freedom said. “I believe that this platform is given by God. So my faith plays a very important role because it always tells me to stand with innocent people, be a voice, always help your neighbor, always help others, always help the people who cannot help themselves.”
“America is not perfect. No country is perfect. You can always find some kind of problem, but we are very blessed and lucky to be in a situation in a country like this.”
When asked why he chose the new surname “Freedom” upon becoming an American citizen, Freedom said that he wanted others in less fortunate nations to be able to call his name and think about what it meant.
“After air, water, and food, I think that freedom is the most important thing that human beings can have,” Freedom said.
“Now, every time I walk down the street people scream behind me and say ‘freedom.’ That is so beautiful.”
Enes Kanter Freedom’s interview on American Thought Leaders airs on Dec. 27 at 7:30 ET.