A Doha court has found a popular Turkish restaurant and five of its employees guilty of selling food unfit for human consumption and ordered the individuals to be jailed, fined and deported.
In a rare move, the Court of Environmental Misdemeanors also ordered that its verdict be published in Al Raya at the expense of the convicted individuals.
That includes a woman who was seven months pregnant and, after experiencing severe abdominal pain, had to be rushed to hospital and gave birth prematurely.
The woman’s husband and two other children who ate at the restaurant also sought medical treatment after experiencing “intense” nausea followed by diarrhea.
Following the incident, the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning (MMUP) ordered the eatery to close for some two months after inspecting its facilities.
At the time, the ministry published photos of what appeared to be dirty and moldy chopping boards, unclean worktops, BBQ grills blackened with caked-on food deposits and food lying around the surfaces.
The restaurant, which is located near TV Roundabout, has since reopened.
The convicted individuals, who had all pled not guilty, include:
- The restaurant manager, who was ordered to spend three months in jail and pay a fine of QR10,000;
- Three employees were ordered to spend a month in jail and a pay a QR7,000 fine; and
- Another employee responsible for obtaining health certification was given a harsher sentence totaling a month in jail and a fine of QR8,000.
All will be deported after serving their sentence. Additionally, the restaurant was fined QR32,000 and ordered to shut down for a further three months.
The defendants remain out of jail for now pending their appeal. It is not clear whether the closure is also dependent upon that outcome.
During the trial, which got underway last November, the court heard that inspectors from the Supreme Council of Health analyzed 41 food samples as well as swabs of surfaces inside the restaurant.
While most of the swabs came back negative, a half-dozen samples – including rice, corn salad, green salad, tabouleh, hummus and mayonnaise – tested positive for harmful levels of bacteria.
However, the samples were not taken until two days after the illnesses were reported.
While the apparent time gap was never explained during the trial, one of the lab technicians who took the swabs said the restaurant had been “cleaned up to perfection” by the time he arrived, according to his supervisor who testified during the trial.
Meanwhile, a defense lawyer told Doha News that the delay in testing meant any bacteria found on the food could have developed after it was removed from the restaurant. He repeated that argument outside court today.
The individuals and restaurant were convicted under a law that was amended in February 2014 to stiffen penalties for restaurants and food outlets caught breaching health and safety laws.
The trial also comes amid a push by the MMUP to further crack down on entries violating food regulations. That includes naming and shaming offenders by publicizing its enforcement actions against eateries.
All of the convicted individuals declined to comment after today’s verdict was read out, but their attorney said he will appeal the judgment in the next few weeks.