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China yanks Boston Celtics games from TV after Enes Kanter slams Xi Jinping as 'brutal dictator'

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Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter delivered pro-Tibet remarks on Wednesday and also blasted Chinese President Xi Jinping as a "brutal dictator." On Thursday, China wiped future games from the schedule as well as yanked past replays.

Kanter – the veteran NBA player and outspoken progressive activist – shared a two-minute video on social media of him voicing his support for Tibetan independence.

"My message to the Chinese government is 'Free Tibet.' Tibet belongs to Tibetans. I am here to add my voice and speak out about what is happening in Tibet," the Turkish basketball star said in the video. "Under the Chinese government's brutal rule, Tibetan people's basic rights and freedoms are nonexistent."

"They are not allowed to study and learn their language and culture freely," Kanter continued. "They are not allowed to travel freely, they are not allowed to access information freely, Tibetan people are not even allowed to worship freely."

"For more than 70 years, Tibetan monks, nuns, intellectuals, writers, poets, community leaders, actors, and many more have been detained, sent to political re-education classes, subject to torture ... and even been executed simply for exercising their freedoms that you and I take for granted," the Celtics center exclaimed.

He added that Chinese citizens can be arrested for having a photo of the Dalai Lama or for flying the Tibetan flag.

"I say, shame on the Chinese government," Kanter declared. "The Chinese dictatorship is erasing Tibetan identity and culture."

"After learning all of this, I cannot stay silent. I stand with my Tibetan brothers and sisters, and I support their cause for freedom," the NBA player proclaimed.

"The communist ideology of China has been around for only around 100 years, but Buddhist civilization, ideology, and philosophy have been around for thousands of years," Kanter stated. "Only the Tibetan people should decide the future of Tibet; ... Tibet belongs to Tibetan people."

"Brutal dictator of China, Xi Jinping, I have a message for you and your henchmen. I will say it again, again, and again, loud and clear; I hope you hear me. Free Tibet, free Tibet, free Tibet," Kanter concluded.

Kanter has also been an outspoken critic of Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan and this week received his 10th arrest warrant for speaking out against the Turkish government's human rights record. Turkey also revoked Kanter's passport. Turkish prosecutors have been seeking the arrest and extradition of Kanter since 2019 for an alleged connection to a terrorist group.

Kanter doubles down

Kanter continued his "Free Tibet" campaign during the Celtics' game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Kanter wore custom sneakers with the words "FREE TIBET," an illustration of a self-immolating Tibetan, and a snow lion from the Tibetan flag. The shoes were designed by Chinese dissident artist Badiucao.

China reacts by pulling Celtics games

According to the New York Times, "By Thursday, recent Celtics games were marked as unavailable for replay through Tencent, the Chinese internet giant that has partnered with the N.B.A. to stream its games in the country. The website for Tencent Sports also indicated that upcoming Celtics games would not be live-streamed."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Kanter was "trying to get attention" and that his remarks "were not worth refuting."

"We will never accept those attacks to discredit Tibet's development and progress," the spokesperson said on Thursday.

A Celtics fan page with over 600,000 followers on the Chinese social media platform Weibo said it would immediately stop covering the team.

The Celtics fan page wrote, "Resolutely resist any behavior that damages national harmony and the dignity of the motherland!"

China has been censoring another NBA team

Tencent Sports has not been livestreaming Philadelphia 76ers games after the NBA franchise hired Daryl Morey to be its president of basketball operations.

Morey is famously known for writing a tweet in support of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong in October 2019, when he was the general manager of the Houston Rockets. Morey was forced to apologize for the "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong" message. Despite the apology, China stopped broadcasting NBA games for the pro-democracy tweet.

China refused to air any NBA games from state-run CCTV for more than a year after Morey's tweet, which cost the NBA $200 million, CNBC reported.

What has the NBA said about China's censorship?

Representatives for the National Basketball Association and the Boston Celtics did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the New York Times. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has yet to respond to China's latest censorship of the NBA.

Previously, Silver was asked on Monday about NBA games not being broadcast in China.

"It's unclear whether we'll be back on CCTV this year," Silver said. "Our projections are not dependent on it."

In April, Silver was asked about the NBA's relationship with China.

"Our most significant television partner is Tencent, which is a streaming service in China," the NBA commission told Time. "And we have hundreds of millions of fans in China who we continue to serve."

Silver claimed, "That a so-called boycott of China, taking into account legitimate criticisms of the Chinese system, won't further the agenda of those who seek to bring about global change."

In 2018, Tencent Holdings Ltd. paid $1.5 billion for five years of exclusive streaming rights to NBA games in China.

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