NBA’s Enes Kanter Joins D.C. Protest Urging Congress to Fight China’s Genocide

Boston Celtics' Enes Kanter before an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

National Basketball Association (NBA) star Enes Kanter participated in a protest against the Chinese Communist Party in Washington, DC, this weekend, urging Congress to “take tangible steps to end slavery” there.

Kanter launched a campaign against China’s ongoing human rights atrocities – including genocidal acts against several ethnic minority groups – last month, breaking convention in the typically pro-China National Basketball Association (NBA). The NBA has deep financial ties to the Chinese Communist Party. While rare, previous public statements in the NBA against China have cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars.

Kanter, whose Boston Celtics have rarely played him since he began his anti-China campaign this season, was in Washington to play against the Wizards. He joined Uyghur, Tibetan, and other groups in the capital and urged Congress to act against companies importing goods made in Chinese concentration camps.

“Pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act. take tangible steps to end slavery and save lives,” Kanter urged Congress.

Voice of America reported on Sunday that Kanter joined a group of hundreds of activists and quoted him lamenting that nearly no other NBA players have taken a similar stand. Prior to Kanter’s outspokenness this season, only one other player – Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert – had spoken publicly against the genocide of Uyghur people in China.

“As an NBA athlete, it is saddening, disgraceful, disgusting to see them remain silent about China,” Kanter said, according to Voice of America. “We need action. Not just words. We have to make human rights a priority in both U.S. and foreign policies.”

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act has languished in Congress for over a year. If turned into law, the legislation would ban all imports from East Turkestan, the Uyghur homeland China administers under the name “Xinjiang,” on the grounds that the region is home to hundreds of concentration camps and cotton fields tended to by Uyghur slaves. Any company attempting to import anything from East Turkestan under the law would have to prove to the U.S. government that the products are in no way tainted by Chinese slave labor.

The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate passed the bill, but Democrats in the House of Representatives have not moved to pass it. Some of America’s most powerful corporations, notably including major NBA sponsor Nike, have lobbied Congress not to pass it.

Kanter published a video last week addressing Nike directly, comparing the company’s support for American left-wing causes to its silence on China.

“You do not protest police brutality in China,” Kanter said. “You do not speak about discrimination against the LGBTQ community, you do not say a word about the oppression of minorities in China. You have still to speak up.”

Kanter invited Nike co-founder Phil Knight to visit Xinjiang and tour concentration camps with him, asking major Nike collaborators LeBron James and Michael Jordan to come along. None has yet to respond to Kanter’s invitation.

The shoes of Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter as seen during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Kanter began his campaign against the Communist Party with a video in support of the Tibetan independence movement. Like East Turkestan, the Party has for decades suppressed Tibetan cultural expression, outlawing Tibetan Buddhism and the use of the Tibetan language and forcing children into communist indoctrination. Reports last year indicated that the Chinese regime has placed hundreds of thousands of Tibetans in labor camps similar to those in East Turkestan.

“Since the illegal invasion and occupation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China in 1959, Tibetans are not only deprived of basic and fundamental human rights,” Sonam Tenphel, the speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, wrote in a letter to Kanter this week. “They are subjected to brainwashing with forced labour in indoctrinating camps, while millions live in fear amid vast surveillance within their homes.”

Tenphel thanked Kanter for his support.

“We are very delighted and grateful for your solidarity with the truth. The voice that you have raised shows how much you support truth and justice,” the speaker wrote.

In response to his first video against the regime, Chinese online content company Tencent blocked all further streaming of live NBA games featuring the Celtics. The Celtics, like the rest of the NBA, have made a few comments regarding the campaign. The team has barely played Kanter, however, giving him only ten minutes on the court this season.

Kanter has used his short time on the court to display sneakers bearing a variety of anti-communist messages. Most recently, Kanter wore shoes urging the world to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, a demand groups repressed by China have agreed on, as the privilege of hosting the Olympic Games would bestow prestige and in a way endorse China’s behavior.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has rejected calls to move the Olympics to a country not committing genocide and has opposed addressing human rights with Communist Party officials.

“We are not a world government,” IOC Vice President John Coates said last month. “We have to respect the sovereignty of the countries who are hosting the games.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.



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