Hungary sentences Syrian man to 7 years over migrant riot

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A Hungarian court on Wednesday sentenced a Syrian man to seven years in prison after convicting him in a retrial of entering Hungary illegally and being complicit in an act of terror for throwing rocks at police during a 2015 border riot.

Ahmed Hamed, who was also expelled from Hungary for 10 years, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison in November 2016 but an appeals court annulled his conviction and ordered a retrial in June 2017.

The ruling has been appealed by both the prosecution and Hamed's defense. Hamed will remain in custody.

The case stems from rioting on Sept. 16, 2015, when dozens of police officers, migrants and some journalists were injured in clashes on the Hungary-Serbia border a day after Hungary closed the frontier, stranding hundreds of migrants.

The court considered Hamed complicit in an act of terror because, along with others who remain unidentified, he threw rocks and other objects at police with the intention of pressuring the state authorities into reopening the border.

Among the mitigating circumstances, the court listed Hamed's lack of a criminal record, his obligation to support two young daughters and that his harsh travails before the riot led to his "restricted consciousness."

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has frequently used Hamed's case in propaganda campaigns seeking support for its strict anti-migration policies.

Amnesty International said the conviction was a "travesty of justice."

"Today's verdict reflects the dangerous confluence of Hungary's draconian counterterrorism laws and its merciless crackdown on refugees and migrants," said Eda Seyhan, Amnesty International's Campaigner on Counter-Terrorism in Europe. "Ahmed's conviction on these charges should be quashed on appeal and he should be released without delay."

The European Parliament and the U.S. State Department under then President Barack Obama expressed concerns about the prosecution after Hamed's initial conviction.

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