Terrorism trial postponed for Röszke defendant

October 28, 2016

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A Szeged judge has postponed the announcement of a verdict in the trial of Syrian citizen Ahmed H. (pictured) until November 30, reports index.hu. Ahmed H. is the only individual facing terrorism charges after tensions turned violent between immigrants and police at Hungary’s border with Serbia on September 16 last year.

The “Battle of Röszke pitted Hungarian riot police and counter-terrorism commandos against migrants, including women and children. A number of young men threw rocks and debris at riot police after Hungarian officials used pepper spray to disperse a crowd upset over finding their entry to Hungary blocked.

The terrorism charges filed against Ahmed H. allege that he attempted to forcibly compel a state body (in this case, the Hungarian police) to admit the crowd gathered on the Serbian side of the border into Hungary. The indictment states that he spoke into a megaphone, shook the police cordon, threw objects at the line of police, and stepped illegally into Hungarian territory. The court is investigating whether he was inciting the crowd through the megaphone, or trying to calm them down, as he asserts.

Last line of defense

Ahmed H., who has now been in Hungarian custody for over a year, received new legal counsel two weeks ago, which has reportedly taken an entirely new approach to his defense. Public defender Balázs Sebők took over but met with the defendant in person for the first time only five minutes before the opening of the trial. The lawyer until then had only been able to speak with his client by telephone, something he argued to the judge was insufficient personal contact to mount an adequate defense. The judge agreed and postponed the trial until November 30.

Sebők hoped to take steps in Ahmed’s defense which weren’t taken by his predecessor: he asked to call character witnesses to testify on Ahmed’s behalf, and on journalists and volunteers who were at the border on the day to testify, contrary to the statements of police, that the defendant did not intend to harm the Hungarian state. However, the judge rejected his requests for additional witnesses. Sebők also asked that an audio recording be introduced as evidence on which Ahmed H. allegedly speaks in English with a journalist, describing in a non-aggressive manner his desire to bring his family to the European Union. The judge has yet to rule on the recording.

The defendant had lived in Cyprus for 10 years with his Cypriot wife at the time of his incarceration, and possessed papers entitling him to free movement within the EU. 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 subsequently charged and convicted of crimes connected to the “riot.”

Religious fanatic?

The judge read the opinion of the psychologist appointed by the court to assess Ahmed H.’s mental condition. The report reads that the defendant is not sick, of average intellect, and was aware of his actions at the time of the alleged crimes, but that owing to previous hardships and the effects of peer pressure his state of mind was compromised, which “assisted in the formation of his acts.”

An Interpol statement was also presented in court, according to which Ahmed H. was considered by Cypriot immigration investigators to be a “dangerous religious fanatic,” a claim which was wholly unsubstantiated in the report. At the same time, the report declared that during his ten years in Cyprus, he never provoked anyone, never fomented insurrection and never evangelized or attempted to recruit anyone for extreme religious purposes.

After the judge read the report to the court, Ahmed H. reiterated that he had never been radical and had never attempted to impose his Islamic faith on his Christian wife. He said he sought peace and friendship, and insisted there was nothing out of the ordinary about him traveling to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, as the Hajj is at the core of the faith of Islamic people. His lawyer then told the court: “Based on these criteria, any Catholic who has ever traveled to the Vatican is also a religious fanatic.”