What this former Utah Jazz player was doing at the US Capitol

Former Jazz man Enes Kanter Freedom is pictured with Utah Sen. Mike Lee on Capitol Hill on a social media post Wednesday.

Former Jazz man Enes Kanter Freedom is pictured with Utah Sen. Mike Lee on Capitol Hill on a social media post Wednesday. (Twitter)

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WASHINGTON — Former Utah Jazz player Enes Kanter — now Enes Kanter Freedom — made the rounds on Capitol Hill the past two days, including meeting with Utah's two senators, to talk about China's human rights record and its influence on the NBA.

Freedom, an outspoken critic of the Chinese and Turkish governments, attended a closed-door lunch Wednesday with Republican senators hosted by Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

The Hill reported that according to senators in the room, the 10-year NBA veteran talked about China's growing influence over the NBA and how players and other personnel who speak out against China's human rights record face blacklisting.

Lee, the Senate Republican Steering Committee chairman, said he wants an explanation from the NBA about why Freedom was traded by the Boston Celtics and then 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 the Hill.

The Jazz drafted Freedom with the third overall pick in the 2011 draft. He spent 3½ seasons in Utah before being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was most recently with Boston until being traded to Houston, which released him Monday.

Born in Switzerland and raised in his parents' native Turkey, he legally changed his name to Enes Kanter Freedom to mark becoming a U.S. citizen last November.

"He has taken a noble stand against genocide in China. Proud he's an American and taking a stand for freedom!" Lee tweeted.

Freedom has been a strong voice against dictatorial regimes around the world and called for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Games currently underway in Beijing. He criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping over alleged human rights violations, particularly against ethnic Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. He called China's Tibet policy "cultural genocide."

Freedom also is a harsh critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has accused Erdogan's administration of harassing his family and issuing an international warrant for his arrest over his support of Turkish dissident Fethullah Gülen.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, met with Freedom on Thursday to talk about the Chinese Communist Party's human rights abuses.

"The CCP's atrocities against its minorities — particularly the Uyghur people — include genocide and crimes against humanity," Romney tweeted.

Romney called for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics last March. President Joe Biden announced in December that the U.S. would not send an official delegation to China for the Games, citing ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.

After Freedom called Xi a "brutal dictator" in a video, the Celtics' game telecast and highlights were pulled last year by the Chinese government.

He told PBS' "Firing Line" last week that his professional basketball career would likely be cut short because of his criticism of China's policies.

"Whenever I have a conversation with someone from the NBA or one of my ex-teammates, they're like, 'Listen, this is your farewell tour. Have fun with it, enjoy it, I hope you win a championship because I don't think you're going to sign another contract after this year,'" he told PBS.

A member of the Norwegian Parliament nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize. Last Thursday, 30 Nobel laureates released a letter calling on the Celtics to stand with Freedom "on the right side of history" and not "to drop him as a player," according to the Atlantic.

The GOP senators at the lunch meeting Wednesday were captivated by his story, according to the Hill. They hailed his advocacy for human rights and criticism of China's government as "very inspiring" and "amazing."

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Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.


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