Retrial in Hungary over Syrian man's controversial terror conviction case begins

Retrial in Hungary over Syrian man's controversial terror conviction case begins
The Rozke border in Hungary where Ahmed Hamed was arrested for alleged acts of terrorism and subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison. International condemnation over the court's interpretation of what constitutes terrorism has triggered a retrial of his case.
By bne IntelliNews October 30, 2017

A new trial of Syrian national Ahmed Hamed, who was previously sentenced to ten-years for terrorism charges before a court ordered a retrial in June, began in Szeged, Hungary, on October 30. The controversial case has deepened Hungary's rift with the European Union and international organisations.

Ahmed Hamed was sentenced to serve ten years in prison for terrorist activities in connection with mass disturbances at the Roszke border crossing at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015, when some 400,000 migrants entered and passed through Hungary. On September 15, 2015, migrants trying to pass the closed border from Serbia clashed with Hungarian riot police, who fired tear gas and water cannons at them. According to the police indictment, Hamed was inciting the crowd though a megaphone and threw rocks at the police. The initial court hearing in November 2015, which sentenced him for ten years for terrorist charges and for stepping illegally into Hungarian territory, sparked criticism from the European Parliament, the US State Department and humanitarian organisations over their interpretation of what constitutes terrorism.

Hamed, aged 41, had left Cyprus in order to help his parents to flee Syria for Europe. At the time of his arrest, he was in possession of papers authorising him to move freely within the European Union. He was at the border to help his family with his money and language skills in their journey towards the EU from Syria. His aging mother and father were also subsequently charged and convicted of crimes connected to the riot.

Amnesty International said the conviction was absurd, based on the blatant misuse of the interpretation of terrorism. “Throwing stones cannot seriously be equated to an act of terrorism and the retrial will provide an opportunity to ensure counter-terrorism laws stop being misused in such a way,” it said at the time.

The European Parliament described the trial as unfair in a resolution it adopted in May to trigger Article 7 against Hungary accusing Budapest of a serious deterioration the of rule of law, democracy and human rights. The text of the resolution states in part that Hungary had sentenced Ahmed Hamed, a Syrian resident in Cyprus, to ten years in prison “in an unfair trial” in November “on the sole grounds of using a megaphone to ease tensions and of throwing three objects at border police” during the riot on September 15, 2015.

In June, a Hungarian court struck down on the first instance ruling and ordered a new trial. The court noted contradictions in police testimonies about Ahmed Hamed's role in the riot. While there was evidence to support his conviction, the lower court failed to properly justify the basis on which it had accepted or rejected evidence, nor was it clear on what specific evidence or reasoning it had based its verdict.

Despite the appellate court ruling, the official communication line of Hungary's nationalist Fidesz ruling party has remained unchanged accusing “Soros organisations and Brussels” of openly siding with a terrorists and promoting illegal immigration.