After being imprisoned and then held in immigration detention in Hungary for more than four years, Syrian national Ahmed H. was finally allowed to return home to be reunited with his family in Cyprus in the early hours of this morning.
A case that Amnesty International has campaigned on for a long time, here’s the story of how Ahmed’s trip to help loved ones in need ended with him needing help thanks to Hungary’s draconian counter-terrorism law.
Who is Ahmed H?
Ahmed is a Syrian national and a former long-term resident of Cyprus. His wife is a Cypriot national as are his two young daughters, who were born and have lived in the country all their lives.
How did he come to be in Hungary?
In August 2015, Ahmed departed his family home in Cyprus on a special mission. Leaving his young family behind, he traveled to Turkey to help his elderly parents and six other family members escape war-ravaged Syria to find safety in Europe.
Around a month later, having successfully navigated their way out of Turkey, Ahmed and his family members found themselves among hundreds of refugees stranded at the Hungarian border, following President Orban’s decision to fence off the crossing from Serbia.
What happened at the Hungarian border?
Clashes broke out as some refugees attempted to get through. Hungary’s police responded with tear gas and water cannon, injuring dozens. Some people threw stones, including Ahmed, but news footage also clearly shows him using a megaphone to call on both sides to remain calm.
Ahmed was one of eleven people arrested but was the only one charged under Hungary’s draconian counter-terrorism law.
What happened during his trial?
During the criminal process, the Hungarian government repeatedly called Ahmed “a terrorist” in an effort to persuade the public that refugees and migrants are threats to the country, instead of ordinary people in need of protection.
In September 2018, a Hungarian court eventually found him guilty of “complicity in an act of terror”, under the country’s extremely vague counter-terrorism laws. While delivering the final judgement, the judge acknowledged that Ahmed had in fact tried to calm the situation and mediate between the police and the crowd. He was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Following an appeal, a retrial was ordered in which he was again convicted and given a reduced sentence of five years in prison, despite a glaring lack of evidence to back up the extremely serious charge.
The United Nations, the European Parliament and the US State Department all expressed concern about Hungary’s deliberate misapplication of terrorism charges in Ahmed’s case.
How long did Ahmed H spend in prison?
Ahmed spent more than three years in prison and endured a long legal ordeal in the hope of being able to return to Cyprus.
But during all this, people all over Europe began campaigning for him. More than 100,000 people took action against his conviction, with the petition delivered to the Ministry of Justice in Hungary and projected onto the building. MEPs got involved as well as numerous other organisations including the Free Röszke 11 group and the European Civic Forum.
On 19 January 2019, he was released from prison and sent to a Hungarian immigration detention centre, after the authorities asked Cyprus to take him back.
For more than eight months, he languished in the detention centre waiting for the Cypriot authorities to decide his fate. During this time, Hungarian immigration officers approached him about being forcibly sent back to Syria, where he would have been at risk of serious human rights violations.
24,000 people joined the #BringAhmedHome campaign at this point, calling on Cyprus to allow him to return to his family. A month of actions began in Belgium on 14 September.
Then at last on 27 September, four years since he was separated from his wife and two daughters, the news we had all been waiting for came through: he had been cleared to return home to Cyprus.
He arrived at Larnaca airport in the early hours of 28 September 2019 for an emotional reunion with his family, just in time for his elder daughter’s tenth birthday.