A Hungarian court has upheld a terrorism charge against a Syrian for his role in a border riot three years ago. The verdict comes amid strained relations between Budapest and Brussels over human rights issues.
A Hungarian court on Thursday upheld a terrorism charge against a Syrian man convicted over a border riot in 2015. The court, however, reduced Ahmed H.'s sentence from seven years in prison to five, of which he has already served three.
"I'm sad," Ahmed's wife Nadia Philippidou told DW. "I expected to hear [he would be] released." In an earlier interview, she said that Ahmed is the "best person in my life" and that she is tired of trying to raise her children without their father.
Ahmed had spent more than a decade living in Cyprus with his Cypriot wife and two young daughters. He was helping his parents and brother's family flee Syria for Europe in 2015 when he was arrested in Hungary.
Hundreds of migrants became stranded after the border with Serbia was closed the day before. Ahmed used a megaphone to communicate with police, and when the protest turned violent, he was involved in throwing rocks at the authorities.
In an interview from prison last month, Ahmed told DW that he did not know why he had been convicted of terrorism: "I never understood how a person can be a 'terrorist' this way. For what?" He said that, in his view, a terrorist is someone who "has hatred for other people, other religions. This is what terrorism means to me. He has to do something from hatred. What hatred do I have — for who?"
It is most likely the final verdict in a trial human rights groups and the European Parliament have condemned as unfair.
Amnesty International said the conviction exemplified "the erosion of the rule of law and human rights protections in Hungary."
"The fact is, he should never have been tried for terrorism," Eda Seyhan, Amnesty's campaigner on counterterrorism, told DW. "This continues to play into the hands of the Hungarian government's persecution of refugees and migrants that the conviction was upheld."
Strained Hungary-European Union ties
The verdict comes just over a week after the European Parliament voted to censure the Hungarian government for eroding democracy and failing to uphold fundamental EU values.
Amnesty's Seyhan believes the verdict will likely add to the tension between Brussels and Budapest, as it "reinforces Hungary's misuse of terrorism laws and further deteriorates the human rights situation in the country."
In a statement to DW, Orban's government doubted Ahmed's innocence, asserting that there had been a coordinated campaign between human rights organizations and the international press "to prove that Ahmed H. is an innocent man." The statement added that "Hungary will continue to protect its borders, will defend its Christian culture and its right to reject immigration."
The legal process continues
On September 28, Ahmed's lawyers will file a motion of defamation against the Hungarian government. They contend that the government broke the law by publicly linking Ahmed to terrorism before the verdict was final.
Ahmed will be eligible for conditional release two-thirds of the way through his five-year sentence, or early next year.