On Wednesday, a court in Szeged, Hungary, sentenced Ahmed H. to 10 years’ imprisonment plus expulsion for the unrest at the Röszke/Horgos border crossing in September 2015.
Ahmed is a Syrian refugee. He was convicted of ‘terrorism’ and ‘illegal border crossing’, and given a 10 year sentence for having been seen using a megaphone and throwing stones. The reality is that they needed to pluck out and parade and some kind of leader-figure from the chaotic, mass rebellion that has played out not just at Roszke, but time and again at different border bottlenecks across Europe over the past few years. He was shackled by the hands and feet and literally held on a leash during the trial.
Migszol, a Hungarian migrant solidarity group, explains the background to the case:
“Ahmed was arrested a bit more than a year ago, shortly after the 15th of September 2015, when the Hungarian government closed its border with Serbia. During the night, irregular border crossing into Hungary became a criminal offence. Hundreds of people who wanted to move on to find international protection were blocked at the Röszke–Horgos border crossing without legal information and extremely limited support. Some people started to protest to move on.
The situation got increasingly tense until it escalated and police started using tear gas and water cannons and protesters were throwing stones. Ahmed H., was among those who communicated with a megaphone between the crowd of protestors and the police, tried to calm both sides down and later also started throwing stones. When the counter-terrorist police force attacked the waiting crowd, ten people of the crowd – among them Ahmed’s parents, with whom he was travelling to support them on their way to Germany to seek international protection and medical help – were arbitrarily singled out and arrested in the police operation, as they were among those who could not leave quickly enough due to their age and health problems. These ten people were brought to court and accused of “participation in a mass riot” and “border violation”. Ahmed was brutally arrested later at a train station and imprisoned, waiting more than a year for his verdict.
The other ten arrested people who were accused of “participation in a mass riot” and “border violation” had a separate trial, which ended in July this year. They were sentenced to 1-3 years of imprisonment and expulsion from Hungary up to 10 years, although the video material showed clearly that they were not actively participating in the protest. The trial was absurd in many aspects: beginning with the arbitrary arrests and the lack of evidence. Although most of the accused should have waited for their verdict in ‘house arrest’, they were unlawfully detained for 9 months in very bad conditions.
The others were also in pretrial detention. There were mistranslations which completely changed the meaning of the statement of one of the accused. The judge also refused to take into account important evidence by the defence, did not take into account the asylum application of some of the accused and the legal obligations of the Hungarian state connected to such an application and ignored important facts of the events of that day, such as the lack of legal information and the massive police violence on the spot. The lawyers and the prosecutor appealed. Two of the 10 people – Kamel J. and Yamen A. are still imprisoned.
As the previous hearings made clear, the biased questions and selection of testimonies by the court aimed at establishing Ahmed as the leader of the protest and a terrorist. Most witnesses invited to speak in front of the court were policemen. Even though the police testimonies were often contradictory or very vague (“it could also have been another man with a beard”), the described injuries of the police during the protest were used as a basis for arguing that Ahmed was leading an “attack against the Hungarian state”. Other witnesses, among them 24 independent journalists, volunteers and Ahmed’s wife, were refused by the court, along with an interview made in the protest in which Ahmed explains that the conditions were very bad and people were getting more and more upset without him being able to calm them down any more.
Further, the court was trying to establish a connection between terrorism and Ahmed’s religion, pointing out how Ahmed was travelling to India (to study about the Quran and visit friends) and Saudia Arabia (for Hajj) and how he is practicing his religion actively. With this the court is in line with the general racist tendency of equation of Islam with terrorism, a linkage commonly made in Hungary not only in relation to Islam, but to refugees and migrants also in general.
Made possible through the vague formulation of Hungarian terrorism law and its political use, Ahmed’s participation and mediation in the protest was found as “terrorist act”. Both Ahmed’s lawyer and the state prosecutor have appealed. The state prosecutor demanding an even harsher prison sentence.”
A solidarity protest took place in the court when the sentenced was announced. A demo has also been called in Budapest for 3rd December, but people are encouraged to pay a visit to their local embassies and representatives of the Hungarian state.
With rage and solidarity let’s keep fighting for: Freedom for Ahmed, Kamel and Yamen!