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Meet the Turkish sports stars on the wrong side of President Erdogan

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Some Turkish sports stars are living in exile
Some Turkish sports stars are living in exile   -  
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“National hero, public enemy, Uber driver”.

That’s the headline accompanying an interview with former Turkish international footballer Hakan Şükür in German newspaper Die Welt.

Şükür is considered one of Turkey’s greatest ever players, and he still holds the record as Turkey’s top scorer on the international stage.

But he now lives in exile in the United States, working as an Uber driver.

He is a wanted man in Turkey and is under police protection. Accused of taking part in the attempted coup in 2016, he says Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan “took everything away from me - my right to freedom, the right to explain myself, the right to work”.

He served in Erdogan’s AKP party for two years before stepping down over a corruption scandal. Şükür, 48, tells the newspaper he is an “enemy of the government, not the state or the Turkish nation”.

He is not the only sports star to find himself on the wrong side of his country’s strongman president, who has been accused of using the coup attempt to bolster his own power and shut down his enemies.

In similar situations are Kurdish footballer Deniz Naki, NBA baskeball player Enes Kanter, and Turkish-German boxer Ünsal Arik.

Deniz Nak: The footballer whose car was shot at in Germany

Deniz Naki, a Turkish-German of Kurdish origin, played for St Pauli and Paderborn in Germany and represented the German under-19 and under-20 teams. After moving to a Turkish club, in 2017 he was given a suspended 18-month prison sentence, charged with “spreading terrorist propaganda” in support of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Read more: 'If Ozil wants to talk about racism, he should look at Turkey'

Euronews interviewed him in the summer of 2018 after he criticised fellow Turkish-German footballer Mesut Ozil for quitting the German national team over alleged racism.

“Does racism occur in Germany? Of course it does. But it isn’t only Germany’s problem, but a global problem,” Naki said at the time, adding Ozil “should react to what happens in Turkey.”

In 2018 Naki’s car was shot at on Germany’s A4 highway earlier in what he claimed was a politically-motivated attack. He was banned from playing football in Turkey, and he told Euronews he could be arrested if he returns there.

Enes Kanter: The NBA player wanted in Turkey

NBA player Enes Kanter had to flee a training camp in Indonesia in 2017 after police came looking for him. While the anti-Erdogan activist was in Romania, he found out his passport had been invalidated and declared himself stateless. Thanks to NBA lawyers and diplomatic pressure from the US, he managed to return to the US, but since then he has lived in fear for his safety.

He decided against travelling to London for a game after reports emerged Turkey had asked Interpol to have him put on the Red Notice list - a request to locate and arrest him.

AP

This all happened after he tweeted in 2017 that his father had been arrested in Turkey, referring to Erdogan as “the Hitler of our century”.

Kanter risks four years in prison for insulting Erdogan on social media.

Ünsal Arik: The boxer who supports “Ataturk, not Tayyip”

After the failed coup, Ünsal Arik openly criticized Erdogan and his constitutional reform the following year. He once stepped into the ring wearing a T-shirt with the words "The country belongs to Ataturk, not Tayyip,'' referring to Turkey’s founding father, who implemented secular reforms in the country.

AWBU World Champion in 2016, Arik never walks alone in Kreuzberg in Berlin for safety reasons, according to German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. He is constantly insulted and threatened online by Erdogan's supporters, accused of being a traitor.

The 39-year-old from Nuremberg can no longer travel to Turkey, as he also faces the prospect of imprisonment. He could be jailed for 15 years, after releasing a rap song critical of Erdogan. His family, he says, are under constant pressure from the authorities at home. He recently applied for a visa to go on holiday to the United States, but the application, he reported, is proceeding slowly.

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