Somali restaurant owner’s harassment by Turkish police was racially motivated: court

Mohamed Abdullahı

A court in Ankara has ruled that Turkish police discriminated against a Somali restaurant owner, recognizing a racial bias in the enforcement of measures against immigrant-run businesses, Turkish Minute reported on Wednesday.

The decision follows a series of events that have highlighted the growing anti-migrant sentiment in the Turkish capital.

Mohamed Isa Abdullah, owner of the Saab Cafe in Kızılay, faced police raids starting in 2021, which led to the closure of his business. Abdullah sought legal recourse and filed a complaint with the Turkish Human Rights and Equality Authority (TİHEK), which initially found no violation. However, the decision was challenged in court, which led to a decisive ruling.

The Ankara 5th Administrative Court found that the actions of law enforcement authorities during the raids were racially motivated. The video evidence submitted by Abdullah showed discriminatory statements made by police officers and confirmed the racist undertone of their behavior.

“The Turkish police discriminated against us because we are Somali, and this has now been confirmed by a court ruling,” said Abdullah, who has since returned to Somalia after his residence permit was revoked.

The court’s decision sheds light on the wider problem of discrimination against African businesses in Ankara. Numerous Somali businesses have been treated in a similar manner, with police carrying out unprovoked raids and ID checks to harass and intimidate owners and customers, among other things.

In one particularly egregious incident in June 2022, police covered up the Saab restaurant’s sign during opening celebrations, claiming that the colors used were symbolic of Kurdish fighters.

The court’s recognition of racial discrimination is a rare moment of accountability in a growing wave of xenophobia in urban Turkey. Somali business owners like Abdullah have often felt targeted under the guise of maintaining public order.

The case also resonates at a political level, reflecting the tensions between Turkish law enforcement and its increasingly diverse population. Critics argue that the government’s attitude towards migrants has emboldened law enforcement agencies to aggressively target non-Turkish business owners.

Human rights groups and opposition politicians, including rights advocate lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, have been vocal in their support of Abdullah.

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