Turkish Police Shoot and Kill a Romani Man in Izmir
24 May 2023
A 33-year-old Romani man named Semih Gürler was shot dead on the evening of 11th May 2023 by Turkish police in İzmir. The young father of three was shot in the head by a police officer while he stood outside on the balcony of a house in the Konak district of the city.
According to the official statement made by the İzmir City Governorate, a police team was dispatched to the Romani man’s address at 8:30pm, after receiving a report of domestic violence. When the officers arrived, they encountered Semih on the balcony and attempted to persuade him to come down. He allegedly went into the house and came back with a shisha pipe in his hand, which the police officers say they believed to be a weapon. The official report claims then that the officers fired two shots into the air as a warning and “as a result of the open fire, the suspect S.G was injured in the head area and was taken to the hospital where, despite interventions, he could not be saved and died.”
The authorities further announced that a police officer, known as F.Y, was taken into custody and a judicial and administrative investigation was initiated regarding the incident.
The ERRC has spoken with several local activists, family members, and eyewitnesses and has identified several inconsistencies with the official account. According to witnesses, Semih was already smoking his pipe on the balcony at the time the police officers first arrived, and later when they began shouting up to him to try and convince him to come down. After a heated exchange, Semih reportedly told them “I won’t come down, come make me if you can!” to which an officer replied, “I will then!”, before taking aim at the Romani man. The police officer fired two shots. The first hit the balcony near Semih. The second shot struck him directly in the head, killing him instantly.
Semih had been living separated from his wife for a number of years and on the day of the incident had come to her house in attempt to convince her to reconcile with him. He was agitated and began behaving aggressively (shouting abuse outside) when his wife would not answer the door to him out of fear. She requested help using the State-run ‘Women’s Support Application (KADES)’ which dispatched the police team to the address.
Neither Semih’s nor his wife are responsible for the actions of the police officer who fired two shots at an unarmed man. Semih’s actions in the hours before his death provide no justification for police officers to open fire on him. Similarly, his wife’s decision to request emergency support in the face of domestic abuse does not mean she is any way responsible for his death. Yet again, a routine incident that could have been easily resolved by competent community policework has ended in tragedy.
Racist and unprofessional policing results in minor callouts escalating.
Time after time, police officers in Turkey (and indeed across Europe) respond to common community complaints involving Romani citizens with extreme and often deadly force. In May 2022, police officers in Istanbul responded to a noise complaint at a Romani wedding by beating racially abusing the guests. They arrested two guests, a Romani father and his son, and tortured them at a police station in the Ataşehir neighbourhood of Istanbul. When the father was being released, police officers further beat his family (including his elderly father, whose arm was broken). The officers joked amongst themselves that they would report the injuries the Romani man and his son sustained were as a result of them “falling from a balcony.” An officer threatened that if they complained about the torture then they would be killed.
During the COVID-19 emergency measures, Turkey saw a spate of police violence against Romani individuals for minor offences such as violating public curfews. On 25th May 2020, two Romani men were sitting in the garden of one of their houses in the district of Silahtarağa in Çorlu when police arrived, dragged them to their police car and beat them and others from their community, seemingly for violating the curfew. A video of the beaten Roma later appeared on social media, and five people submitted criminal complaints against the police for the violence done to them.
A similar incident took place the day earlier, on 24th May 2020, in the Mustafa Kemal Paşa neighbourhood of Keşan. Police teams battered and pepper sprayed a group of Romani citizens (including children) who were in violation of the COVID-19 curfew.
In both cases of police brutality against Roma for violating curfew, the officers in question faced no disciplinary measures or criminal charges for their actions. In the incident involving the torture and death-threats of wedding guests in Istanbul, rather than police facing prosecution, the father and son were instead charged with crimes by the Public Prosecutor. The Romani men were charged with Defamation, for the criminal complaints they made against their police torturers, and Resistance and Obstruction of Performance of Duty for allegedly attempting to escape police custody.
Lawsuit looms as investigation continues into the killing of Semih Gürler
While the family of Semih Gürler awaits the outcome of the judicial and administrative investigation into the actions of the police officer F.Y, activists are expecting a negative decision and preparing for the inevitable lawsuit against the police. If previous investigations into police violence against Roma are anything to go by, the officers have nothing to worry about in the current investigation. Across Europe, over the past 20 years the number of cases where a police officer has faced prison-time for a violent hate crime against a Romani person can be counted on one hand. The ERRC and its local partners will continue to monitor the progress of the investigation, while the family prepare for a likely lawsuit against the police force which killed their son.