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Ministry ‘outraged’ at U.S. comment on Syrian sentencing

Issues

Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade finds it “outrageous and unacceptable” that its U.S. counterpart comments on decisions made by Hungarian courts, said Tamás Menczer, press chief at the ministry, in an announcement published by state news agency MTI today in response to U.S. concerns over the prison sentence meted out to a Syrian asylum-seeker.

“The United States is concerned by the prosecution and sentencing in Hungary of Ahmed Hamed, a Syrian native involved in clashes between police and asylum-seekers near the town of Röszke at the Hungary-Serbia border in September 2015, based on a broad interpretation of what constitutes ‘terrorism’,” the U.S. State Department statement says. “We urge the government of Hungary to conduct a transparent investigation, with input from independent civil society groups, into the events at Röszke and to review the cases of Mr. Hamed and those similarly convicted. We will continue to follow the case of Mr. Hamed closely,” it adds. 

The Syrian asylum seeker recently received a ten-year prison sentence after last year’s disturbances at the Röszke border crossing in southern Hungary. Last week Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in connection with the decision that: “We said it in advance, we put billboards around the whole country about it: if you come here, you need to abide by Hungarian laws.”

In reaction to yesterday’s announcement, Menczer said it was “strange that the foreign diplomacy of the United States, which regularly lectures the world about the separation of powers, is now urging a government to interfere with a court decision,” according to the press announcement. “This might be possible in the United States, but it is not possible in Hungary,” Menczer was quoted as saying. He stressed that “in Hungary, the court, and not so-called civil organizations, decides on the destiny of those who have committed crimes, and this will stay this way, irrespective of whether the U.S. foreign ministry likes it or not.”

The press chief stressed that attacking the Hungarian border and keeping up an attack for several hours against the Hungarian police defending the border is a “serious crime that merits a serious penalty.” He added that “Hungary will never question decisions by U.S. courts brought against terrorists attacking U.S. police officers.”

The sentence against Ahmed Hamed has nevertheless been criticized by opponents as too draconian, and based on a faulty understanding of the definition of terrorism.

In a response to the sentencing on November 30, quoted by online news portal index.hu, Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International deputy director for Europe, said: “This verdict is based on a blatant misuse of terrorism provisions and reflects a disturbing confluence of two dangerous trends: the misuse of terrorism-related offenses and the appalling treatment of refugees and migrants. A father who was trying to help his elderly Syrian parents reach safety now faces 10 years in prison. Throwing stones and entering a country irregularly does not constitute terrorism and cannot justify this draconian ruling. Ahmed H.’s terrorism verdict should be quashed on appeal.”

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