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Appeals court upholds Syrian rioterʼs terrorism conviction

The Szeged Court of Appeals has upheld a terrorism charge brought against Syrian national Ahmed H., who clashed with police on illegally entering Hungary from Serbia at the Röszke border point in September 2015. The case has been subject to an international outcry at what is seen by some as an overly strict application of the law.

The border fence at Röszke, southern Hungary (photo MTI / Tamás Sóki)

Despite upholding the conviction, the court reduced Ahmed H.ʼs jail sentence from seven to five years. The Syrian, who has already served three years, will have to stay in prison for a minimum of two-thirds of the five-year sentence, and will thus not be eligible for release until early 2019, according to state news wire MTI.

Ahmed H. was charged after migrants broke the border fence at the southern Hungarian crossing at Röszke in September 2015.

In the reasoning of the verdict, the judge said that even though Ahmed H. first warned the crowd at the border to stay calm, he later joined them throwing rocks at Hungarian police, injuring several. He then crossed into Hungary at the first opportunity across the broken fence, the judge added.

In recent weeks, human rights NGO Amnesty International has spearheaded a campaign to alleviate the charges, collecting more than 100,000 signatures to support Ahmed H.ʼs cause.

"After three years behind bars, this judgement comes as a devastating blow for Ahmed, his wife and his two young daughters,"  said Eda Seyhan, Amnesty International’s counterterrorism campaigner, in a press release sent to the Budapest Business Journal.

"Ahmed’s absurd conviction has nothing to do with justice, but instead plays into the hands of the Hungarian authorities’ demonization of refugees, migrants, and those seeking to protect them," Seyhan added. "By blatantly misusing terrorism-related provisions and riding roughshod over the law, this verdict exemplifies the erosion of the rule of law and human rights protections in Hungary."

In late 2016, the U.S. State Department expressed its concern over the ten-year prison sentence initially meted out to Ahmed H., prompting a strongly indignant response from Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.