Szeged appeals court orders retrial in case of Ahmed H.

June 15, 2017

Photo: Lili Bayer

“Whatever happens with me in Hungary in this case, I have nothing against the Hungarian people or Hungary.” – Ahmed H.

A second-level court in Szeged has ordered a retrial in the case of Ahmed H., citing inconsistent evidence in the original trial.

Ahmed H. was arrested in Hungary in September 2015 following clashes between asylum-seekers and police at the Röszke border crossing from Serbia.  Accused by state prosecutors of committing acts of terrorism, in November 2016 he was convicted by the first-level court and sentenced to ten years in prison.

Hungarian and international civil and legal rights watchdog organizations protested the decision, with many observers referring to his case as a show trial.

Photo: Lili Bayer

At today’s second-level hearing, state prosecutors presented the same arguments as before, claiming that Ahmed H. had thrown rocks at police, used a megaphone to communicate with the refugees at the border, and given police an ultimatum, threatening that refugees would cross the border sealed the previous day to prevent tens of thousands of asylum-seekers from entering Hungary illegally.

During the appeal hearing, Ahmed H. was represented by a new lawyer, former Minister of Justice Péter Bárándy, who argued that critical evidence was ignored in the first trial.

“From my perspective […] the facts are missing,” Bárándy said, pointing to a number of inconsistencies between police personnel’s  testimonies in the first trial and video and audio evidence from a policewoman’s camera. These inconsistencies include timing of events and the content of Ahmed H.’s message to his fellow refugees.

“Please wait,” Ahmed told the others along the border during the tense day of September, according to a transcript of a recording partially read out loud by his lawyer.

Bárándy also argued that the wrong laws are being applied to the defendant, who had been residing in Cyprus and was at the border helping his Syrian family reach the European Union.

“The defendant was legally allowed to enter Hungary, just not here,” he said.

The lawyer emphasized that in his view there is no evidence that the events, including the throwing of rocks and attempt to cross the border, qualify as a terror act.

The defense heavily criticized the first-level court case’s inclusion of details on the defendant’s faith in its consideration.

“The defendant’s relationship with the Koran […] and pictures on his phone […] have no place here,” said Bárándy.

Photo: Lili Bayer

Ahmed H., who had been brought into the packed courtroom in chains and accompanied by three masked policemen, insisted that his intent was never to harm the Hungarian police.

“My original plan was to help my family get away from war,” he said, speaking through a translator. “Whether the border was closed or not, we didn’t know — we didn’t know anything.”

Ahmed, who after the events in Röszke went to Croatia and later crossed into Hungary, emphasized that his return to the country is evidence of his innocence.

“If I had felt that I really hurt anyone or committed a crime, then indeed I would not have come back to cross through Hungary,” he said.

In Ahmed’s view, being a Muslim has made him look guilty in the eyes of some.

“I realized that if I tell anyone that my name is Ahmed or Mohammed, they think I’m a terrorist,” he said. “I respect all other religions […] Whatever happens with me in Hungary in this case, I have nothing against the Hungarian people or Hungary,” said the accused.

In its decision, the court paid particular attention to the defense’s argument that some evidence appears to have been contradictory, while some evidence was apparently ignored.

“The first-level court has a legal responsibility to consider all evidence,” said the presiding judge, in the second-level appeal. He read aloud excerpts of audio evidence where Ahmed is heard speaking peacefully and calling for calm behavior — evidence that was overlooked in the first trial.

“There was no attention paid to the setting,” said the judge of the police’s testimonies, pointing out that the scene was confused and noisy.

“The facts […] have to be clarified,” said the judge as he ordered a new trial. The ruling prescribes that the new trial take place in a different court than the first round.

Activists who attended the hearing welcomed the decision. Expecting the first-level court’s ruling to simply be upheld, many activists left the courtroom shocked by what had transpired.

“What was positive was that the judge questioned many things that the lawyer pointed out,” said Judit of the Free Roszke 11 group, who declined to provide her last name.

Other activists were also impressed with the judgment but expressed worry about Ahmed H.’s continued detention.

“It’s good […] but now again months will pass during which time he has to sit in prison,” said Barbara Hegedus, a member of the Migszol group.