22nd Mar 2018

Hungary gives 10-year sentence to Syrian man for border riot

  • Migrants at Roszke, after Hungary erected its razor wire border fence (Photo: Freedom House)

A Syrian man was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Hungarian court on Wednesday (30 November) for his part in a riot on the border with Serbia last year.

Ahmed Hamed, 40, was handed down the longest sentence by a Hungarian court in connection with the migration crisis, and was also sentenced to be expelled from the country.

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He was sentenced for throwing rocks at police in an attempt to push through the border gate, which was an "act of terror," according to Hungarian law.

The man was part of a group that crossed illegally into Hungary in September 2015 at the Roszke point. He spoke to the crowd standing at the Serbian side of the border before hundreds of migrants pushed through the border gate, while Hungarian police used water cannon and teargas to stop them.

Hamed pleaded not guilty to a charge of terrorism, and he cried as he was given his sentence.

He had lived in Cyprus for 10 years, and had an EU residency permit. He joined the more than 1 million migrants coming into Europe last year to help his parents and other relatives make their way through the Balkans into Europe from war-torn Syria.

According to Amnesty International, news footage taken at the time of the riot in September shows Hamed using a megaphone to call on both the refugees and the police to remain calm. Ahmed admitted in court that he was involved in hurling stones as clashes intensified.

Ahmed's father and mother were also arrested, and, along with eight others, were charged with illegally entering Hungary and participating in a mass riot. They spent eight months in prison in Hungary.

According to the court, Hamed was a leading figure in the riots. Among the 11 people who were detained at Roszke, only Hamed was charged with terrorism.

Hamed and his family arrived to the Hungarian border just as the country erected a fence on its Serbian border to stop the mass flow of people.

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban has been a staunch opponent of migration, being the first EU leader to erect a border fence last year, and has refused to participate in the EU's refugee relocation scheme.

On Wednesday, a small group of protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Szeged, in southern Hungary, to demand the release of Hamed and the "Roszke 11".

"The Roszke trials are show trials," the group said in a leaflet they handed out, according to Reuters.

"Throwing stones and entering a country irregularly does not constitute terrorism and cannot justify this draconian ruling," Gauri van Gulik, of Amnesty International, said in statement.

Hungary during the summer passed a constitutional amendment that grants broad powers to the government to declare a state of "terror threat emergency".

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