Photo of shoes from Enes Freedom

Enes Kanter Freedom Speaks Out Against China’s Human Rights Violations

The NBA player has a lot to say about freedom, and he’s not afraid to bring attention to the issues that other people shy away from.
January 12, 2022
9 mins read

The 2022 Winter Olympics will begin this February, though public scrutiny of China’s human rights violations leaves many unsure whether to support them. So far, the 2022 Beijing Olympics pose three problems: controversy, COVID-19 and boycotts.

The diplomatic boycott was started by the United States when the Biden administration said they would not send U.S. diplomatic or official representation to the games over China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.” Australia, Britain and Canada joined the boycott, although the athletes of these countries will still compete.

China has made recent headlines for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority group, in the northeastern region of Xinjiang, where about 11 million Uyghurs live. A lengthy article written by the Council on Foreign Relations in March 2021 reported that the Chinese government has imprisoned more than 1 million people since 2017 and subjected those not detained to intense surveillance, religious restrictions, forced labor and forced sterilizations.

Chinese officials claim the alleged abuses described as genocide by the U.S. are instead vocational training centers that do not infringe on Uyghurs’ human rights. They have also refused to share information about the detention centers and have prevented journalists and foreign investigators from examining them. There are 27 confirmed or likely-to-be reeducation camps, but the estimated number is as high as 1,200 in the Xinjiang region.

The turning point that intensified Beijing’s attitude toward Uyghurs was apparently in 2009 when rioting ensued in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, by mostly Uyghur demonstrators who were protesting state-incentivized Han Chinese migration in the region and widespread economic and cultural discrimination.

There are also conversations about whether Peng Shuai, a Chinese professional tennis player, is safe after she accused retired Chinese politician Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into having sex. After sharing her accusation on Weibo, Shuai suddenly disappeared for several weeks, sparking concern from countries across the globe. In mid-November, state media outlet China Global Television Network published an email that was supposedly from Shuai on Twitter. They claimed the email was sent to the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) chief, Steven Simon, saying the allegations Shuai made were untrue.

In the days following Shuai’s email, the public could see her posting on her social media. In addition, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) spoke with Shuai in an online video call, and she appeared in an interview with Singapore newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, a Chinese-language publication with pro-Beijing news.

The aftermath of Shuai’s initial accusation seems suspicious to many as the U.N. and U.S. have called for proof of the tennis star’s well-being. Major tennis players began speaking out, the WTA demanded to talk to Shuai and people worldwide pushed to see justice for Shuai, Gaoli and the Chinese regime.

In recent weeks, NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom has made noise regarding China’s brutal behavior. Freedom has been outspoken about human rights in China; he is notable for wearing shoes designed to convey different messages at his games, calling out China for its repression of Tibetans, the abuse of Uyghurs, the loss of Hong Kongers’ freedoms and Nike slave labor.

Freedom believes that no athlete should attend the Beijing 2022 Olympics because of China’s long list of human rights violations. He has been vocal throughout his career in what he believes in.

Born in Switzerland and raised in Turkey, Freedom has been an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which caused the NBA player’s passport revocation in 2017, says The New Yorker.

In his interview with The New Yorker, Freedom recalls that his political awakening began in 2013 as a corruption scandal in Turkey ensued between President Erdoğan and his family. His first time speaking out motivated him to continue to use his platform and bring awareness to injustices, especially in Turkey, where he was brought up.

His journey into standing up for bigger issues continued when someone brought to light the Uyghur Muslims who were being held in concentration camps in China. His encounter with this knowledge encouraged Freedom to do research that informed him of issues on a global scale.

Oct. 21, 2021, was the first time Freedom wore shoes with a message criticizing China; the shoes read, “Free Tibet,” donned during the Celtics’ game at Madison Square Garden. A day earlier, he had posted a video on social media calling China’s president, Xi Jinping, a “brutal dictator” and voicing support for Tibet. Shortly after, during halftime, Celtics’ games were banned in China, making the country’s censorship of anything that contradicts China and its regime clear as day.

In an interview with The Post, Freedom claimed that a few people with the NBA begged him not to wear the shoes. Acknowledging his First Amendment right to freedom of speech, he knew what he was doing was legal after practicing for his citizenship exam. Considering that the NBA and shoe companies like Nike have close business ties with China, it’s difficult for many players to speak up against its government. Freedom thinks NBA players’ lack of response to China’s actions is due to a lack of education on the matter, rather than malice.

Freedom received both praise and heat for his tweet criticizing Lebron James, another notable NBA player. The tweets accuse James of remaining silent despite his advocacy for social justice in the past. His tweet reads, “Money over Morals for the ‘King.’ Sad & disgusting how these athletes pretend they care about social justice. They really do ‘shut up & dribble’ when Big Boss says so.”

In the “Ideas” section of Time Magazine, Freedom writes a few words on “Why I Stand Up for Freedom in America—And Around the World” as a new American citizen. He takes his time to clarify misconstrued statements he has made and presents a clear message to his readers, saying, “Like so many, I worry that my deeper message tends to get lost in the culture wars and polarization of today’s political discourse.”

He concludes his ideas while keeping the topic within the realm of his expertise and says, “We, as athletes, should further push our governments, the IOC, and sporting associations to move the Games and suspend all other sporting activities hosted by a regime committing … ongoing widespread human rights abuses, as the Women’s Tennis Association has already done.”

Freedom closes his article with a quote from late civil rights leader John Lewis’ call for the United States to come together to embrace the promise of America: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

Tori Walz, Eastern Michigan University

Writer Profile

Tori Walz

Eastern Michigan University
English with a Concentration in Professional Writing

Hi I am Tori and I am glad to be here. :)

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