"It's been too long": waiting for justice in Hungary

By Todor Gardos

It’s been a while since I last spoke with Nadia. The early October sun and the freedom to go out and indulge in it only makes this call more difficult. For her and her husband, weeks go by very slowly. The sun is just another source of happiness that was taken away from them. No news from our side, nor from hers. “I’m well, the children are well”, she tells me when I call her. “I’m just worried for Ahmed”, she adds.

It’s been too long.
Nadia, Ahmed's wife

It’s been two years since her husband, Ahmed, was detained in Hungary. The authorities allege that he committed “acts of terror” during a riot at the Hungary-Serbia border in September 2015. His prosecution and trial defied all common sense and just process. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, by a judge whose decision was later annulled on appeal.

A new trial beginning at the end of this month is the glimmer of hope for a family torn apart by an overzealous prosecutor, acting along the lines of the government’s political messages, which incriminated Ahmed from day one, alleging he was a member of an organized terrorist group forcing the entry of “illegal immigrants” into Hungary. None of these claims were accepted by the appeals court.

Amnesty International has reported on Ahmed’s case from the start of his trial, always careful not to compromise the independent work of the courts. But at the same time, we made it clear that the terror charge against Ahmed was an abuse of Hungary’s criminal code by the prosecution. Speaking into a megaphone and throwing “three solid objects” towards the police cannot credibly be considered “acts of terror”. Especially not in the context of a riot in which more than 300 migrants had to be treated for injuries inflicted by police dressed in riot gear from top to toe, firing tear gas canisters and water cannon.

The government has invested so much time and money incriminating Ahmed that even the most independent court system in the world would struggle to ensure he got a fair trial; the Hungarian justice system is far from that. Ahmed did not receive a fair judgment initially and the government played a large part in that.

Over the past two years they’ve made it clear that if you are a migrant or Muslim you should stay out of Hungary. Prime Minister Orbán recklessly called Ahmed a “terrorist” in parliament while his trial was still ongoing. Other government members have “convicted” him in public as if they, rather than the courts, have the right to do so.

Stoking up xenophobic sentiment has been incredibly damaging for Hungarians and foreigners in equal measure, and led to Hungary becoming a more oppressive place over the past few years.

Still, we must distinguish between the government and the people. As the former rolls out its latest “national consultation”, a household survey smearing Amnesty International and Ahmed personally in front of the whole voting population, we have faith in the solidarity of the people. Indeed, they are increasingly coming together as the nonsensical propaganda of the government reaches new lows.

The air in Budapest is full of defiance, a will to debunk the fear mongering and fight the injustice that some of the most vulnerable people face. Whether it’s Ahmed, a refugee family jailed at the border, or a Romani woman whose children were taken away because she is poor, they all deserve justice and fairness.

While nobody can undo the damage that has been done by the government’s rhetoric and policy, we can work together to make rights and dignity a reality for all of us.