BUDAPEST, Hungary – A Hungarian appeals court has annulled the conviction and ordered a retrial in the case of a Syrian man sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for entering Hungary illegally and committing an "act of terror" by throwing rocks at police during a 2015 border riot.
Explaining its ruling, the appeals court in the southern city of Szeged noted contradictions in police testimony about Ahmed Hamed's role in the riot and said that while there was evidence to support his conviction, the lower court had failed to properly justify why it took certain evidence into account in its decision while other evidence was discarded.
Hamed will remain in pre-trial detention throughout the new trial, to be heard by a different panel of judges, the appeals court said.
"Today's decision is an important step on the road to truth for (Hamed)," said Aron Demeter, a human rights expert at Amnesty International Hungary. "It suggests that he was wrongly convicted."
Hamed's case has become emblematic of Hungary's strict anti-migrant policies, rejecting nearly all asylum-seekers and leading to the construction in 2015 of razor-wire fences on the country's southern borders.
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 border, stranding hundreds of migrants.
The terrorism charge against Hamed, who had lived in Cyprus for about a decade, was based on his use of violence — throwing rocks — to try to force police into letting migrants through the border. The appeals court, however, said the charge needed to be examined further.
Hamed's conviction in November was widely condemned by human rights advocates, and a resolution on Hungary adopted in May by the European Parliament called his trial "unfair." Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the European Union was "openly siding with terrorists."
In December, the U.S. State Department also expressed concerns about Hamed's prosecution, saying it was based on a "broad interpretation of what constitutes 'terrorism.'"
Prosecutors had appealed for a longer prison sentence, while the defense sought the dismissal of the terrorism charge and a shorter prison term.