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Syrian man given 10-year sentence by Hungarian court for rioting

A Hungarian court has convicted 40-year-old Ahmed Hamed of terrorism for threatening border police during a riot. The charges date back to September 2015, and have prompted sharp criticism from human rights groups.

A Hungarian court on Wednesday found a Syrian man guilty of terrorism in a trial that Amnesty International has called an "alarming" application of anti-terrorism law. The court also convicted the man, Ahmed Hamed, of entering Hungary illegally and sentenced him to 10 years in prison and permanent expulsion from Hungary.

Both the prosecution and the defense intend to appeal the verdict, one seeking a stiffer sentence, the other an acquittal.

Hamed was arrested along with 10 other people in connection with a protest at the Hungarian-Serbian border on September 16, 2015,  which resulted in the injury of over 100 civilians, many of them refugees, as well as 15 to 20 police officers.

The prosecution

Police witnesses said he threatened officers over a megaphone. They alleged that he demanded they open the border, which had been sealed only a day before, causing a pile-up of asylum seekers hoping to cross into Hungary, an EU members state, from Serbia.

Ungarn Röszke Grenze Polizeieinsatz gegen Flüchtlinge (Reuters/M. Djurica)

The clash at the Hungarian border crossing on September 16, 2015, became known as the 'Battle of Röszke' after the name of the town where it occurred

They also said that he joined other protesters in throwing rocks at police.

Hamed claimed that he was not threatening police but attempting to communicate between police and protesters to defuse the situation. He also denied throwing rocks at police.

As a legal resident of Cyprus, Hamed could have legally crossed the border. He claims that he was there that day to help his Syrian family get into Europe, and was asked by other protesters to use the megaphone because he spoke English.

Hungarian terrorism law

The Hungarian criminal code defines terrorism as "a violent crime" that attempts to "coerce a government agency…into doing, not doing or countenancing something". Hungary's right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, recently fought to give the government more power to crack down on terrorism in his country; Hungary has not been the site of any recent deadly terrorist attacks.

Orban is also one of Europe's strongest opponents of allowing asylum seekers into the EU, arguing that there is a clear link between immigration and terrorism.

Observers from Amnesty International were present at the trial's conclusion on Wednesday and documented several perceived shortcomings in the prosecution's case. They reported, for instance, that the final police witness who testified against Hamed on Wednesday admitted to not knowing what the accused had said over the megaphone, and could not definitively identify him.

In an earlier hearing, the prosecution also presented a statement from Interpol linking Hamed to the Muslim organization Tablighi Jamaat to support the terrorism charge, although the statement said Hamed had never engaged in religious extremism.

Amnesty told DW on Monday that the terrorism charge was "alarming" but that the trial of Hamed had been "in line with the Hungarian penal code".

The punishment

The 10-year sentence is shorter than the maximum sentence of life in prison that a terrorism conviction can carry in Hungary.  The year Hamed has already spent in Hungarian jail will be deducted from the sentence and he could be eligible for release after serving two-thirds of his prison time.

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