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ISRAEL: Court awards N632,000 to Nigerian racially profiled by immigration

A DISTRICT court in Lod has ruled that Isreal’s Population and Immigration Authority inspectors cannot randomly stop people to demand their identity documents solely based on their appearance.

The court said it would amount to disproportionate harm to human dignity, selective enforcement of the law and discrimination against minorities.

Judge Efrat Fink stated this while delivering judgment on an appeal by a Nigerian national Samuel Maduabuchi, who was arrested by immigration officials near a bus stop in the central city of Netanya two months ago, after they discovered that his residence visa had expired.

Maduabuchi appealed his arrest on the grounds that it violated the Entry to Israel Law, under which immigration inspectors were allowed to demand identity documents only when they had a ‘firm’ basis for assuming that someone should have a visa or other permit to stay in the country.

The Nigerian said he had been in Israel legally for most of the past decade, partially on a tourist visa and partially on a residence visa he obtained because he was living with an Israeli citizen.

The government and the National Insurance Institute officially recognised him as a victim of a terrorist attack after he was injured in a 2015 incident in Ra’anana. He said his residency visa expired two months before he was arrested and detained and that he had been seeking an extension since.

In their report detailing the arrest, the inspectors failed to say on what basis they had initially suspected that Maduabuchi was in Israel illegally, the court said.

“In doing so, they left out an important factor in their operation report,” Judge Fink held.

“Moreover, during one of the hearings, a government representative said that “we don’t want to deny that, among other things, [suspects] are approached on the basis of their appearance.”

The judge explained in her ruling that since there were no other factors that led to Maduabuchi being stopped, and that the state admitted to racial profiling, “the possibility cannot be ruled out that the appellant was stopped mainly due to his appearance… his dark skin.”

Fink ordered Maduabuchi be released and set conditions for his deportation in the future. She also awarded him 4,000 shekels $1,240 (N632, 400) in legal expenses.

The judge cited a January High Court ruling, which deemed it illegal for police officers to demand a person’s identity card when they had no reasonable suspicion that he or she had committed a crime.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut ruled that “in circumstances in which a person has not even been given a clear reason for the powers being exercised, there may be a concern that authority has been exercised arbitrarily.”

Hayut added that a police officer was under obligation “to identify himself as a police officer and is obligated under certain circumstances to explain to a person the reason he is exercising his authority.”

Fink concluded that the two cases were related and that in the absence of a clear reason for the immigration inspectors’ actions, such behavior raised concerns about discrimination against minorities.

Tomer Warsha and Asaf Weitzen, attorneys specialising in immigration issues who represented Maduabuchi, said the district court’s judgement had made clear that a uniform standard must apply to immigration inspectors obligated to act in accordance with equality and without prejudice while carrying out their functions.

They expressed confidence that the ruling would help promote human rights for every person in Israel.

In response to the ruling, the Population and Immigration Authority said that its inspectors “are instructed to act in accordance with the law and the authority regulations,” and that adherence to the provisions of the law was observed in Maduabuchi’s case.

The agency added it was considering appealing the judgement.

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