Hungary Retrial for Syrian Jailed on 'Terror' Charges


A Hungarian appeals court on Thursday ordered a retrial for a Syrian man jailed for 10 years for his role in a border riot two years ago, a verdict that was slammed by the EU and rights groups.

Ahmed Hamed, a 40-year-old builder resident in EU member Cyprus for around a decade, was jailed last November for committing an "illegal border crossing and an act of terror while participating in a mass disturbance."

That verdict "is annulled", said an appeals court judge in Szeged, southern Hungary, adding that Hamed must be kept in custody pending the retrial.

The evidence "may not have been adequately examined" by the first court, the judge said. 

Thursday's ruling is "a step in the right direction towards Ahmed's acquittal for his actions, which cannot credibly constitute acts of terror," said Todor Gardos of Amnesty International, who called the original verdict "draconian."

Prosecutors accused Hamed of using a megaphone to orchestrate violence against Hungarian police at the border with Serbia on September 16, 2015, a day after Prime Minister Viktor Orban's hardline anti-immigration government sealed the frontier with razor wire.

Several dozen migrants tried to cross into Hungary at the Roszke checkpoint while riot police used tear gas and water cannon to force them back onto Serbian territory.

During clashes that saw around 15 police and 100-150 migrants injured, including children, prosecutors said Hamed also threw three "objects" at police.

Hamed's defense lawyer said Thursday that while Hamed admitted throwing stones there was no evidence he had injured anyone or engaged in an act of terror, and sought the quashing of the verdict.

"I had no thought to commit any type of criminal act, never mind an act of terror," Hamed said Thursday.

Flanked by masked and armed police he said he had used his knowledge of English to mediate by megaphone between the migrants and the riot police.

Hamed said he was escorting his elderly parents, who had fled from northern Syria, to Germany where they now live with his brother's family.

His wife Nadia Philippidou told AFP in a telephone interview this week that Hamed is granted 70 minutes of phone call time per week from prison.

"He's unfairly kept, he has nothing to do with the charges or terrorism," said Philippidou, 49, who lives in Cyprus.

Hamed picked up his parents in Turkey, she said, crossed to Lesbos in Greece by boat, and arrived at the Hungarian border on the day it was closed.

Hungarian refugee rights groups slammed last year's verdict as a "show trial", while the U.S. State Department said it was "based on a broad interpretation of what constitutes 'terrorism.'"

Last month the European Parliament approved a resolution criticizing Orban's government including its treatment of Hamed. 

"Brussels is openly on the side of terrorists," Orban, who has often connected migrants to crime and terrorism, said in parliament earlier this week.

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