The Government of Hungary strongly rebuked a press statement released by the US Department of State in Washington, DC concerning the recent sentencing by a Hungarian court of Syrian native Ahmed Hamed who was involved in the attacks on Hungarian police at the Hungarian-Serbian border in September 2015. In an official statement, the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister responded, calling the State Department’s comments "inappropriate and hypocritical.”
On Wednesday, December 6, the US Department of State issued a statement questioning a Hungarian domestic court’s “broad interpretation” of “terrorism” and decision to sentence Syrian Ahmed Hamed, to a ten-year jail sentence. The State Department urged the Government of Hungary “to conduct a transparent investigation, with input from independent civil society.” Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner added that the US administration’s intends to "follow the case of Mr. Hamed closely.”
The case involved a Syrian national present at the Hungarian-Serbian border in September 2015 when a large group of migrants forcibly attempted to enter Hungary contrary to Hungarian law and the directions of Hungarian authorities. The defendant used a megaphone to incite and encourage the assembled crowds to forcibly cross the border, which resulted in the defendant himself and the assembled crowd attacking the police. Mr. Hamed was found guilty in an impartial court of law (subject to appeal) of terrorism committed through an act of violence and was sentenced to the minimum sentence for his crime, ten years imprisonment.
American criticism on “broad interpretation” is hardly defensible, given the existence of significant US inter-agency discrepancies in the definitions of “terrorism” between the FBI, Department of State, and FEMA, among others. The Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office states that the State Department disregards the rule of law and governmental “checks and balances,” inappropriately interferes in a purely Hungarian domestic matter, and displays a willful ignorance of the Hungarian legal definition of terrorism. Terrorism (Criminal Code: Section 314), pursuant to which the court convicted Ahmed Hamed is in part the following: “Any person who commits a violent crime against the persons referred to in Subsection (4) or commits a criminal offense that endangers the public or involves the use of arms in order to: a) coerce a government agency, another State or an international body into doing, not doing or countenancing something; b) intimidate the general public; c) conspire to change or disrupt the constitutional, economic or social order of another State, or to disrupt the operation of an international organization; … (4) For the purposes of this Section, violent crime against the person, or criminal offense that endangers the public or involves the use of arms shall include: … e) assault on a public official…”
In this case, the facts are undisputed. The defendant committed a violent crime, harmed other persons, assaulted, and incited others to assault the police and illegally cross the border, and attempted to force the police to give up border protection.
The State Department has for years publicly lectured Hungary about the importance of the “rule of law” and domestic “checks and balances”. Now, it curiously calls upon the Prime Minister’s Office with the aid of civil society groups to investigate the judicial branch. In recent years, the US government has repeatedly criticized Hungarian lawmakers for voicing disagreements with certain Hungarian court decisions, calling on politicians to respect the integrity and independence of the court system.
In calling for an official investigation into the case of Ahmed Hamed, the State Department has acted hypocritically, disingenuously, and contrary to the principles governing democratic allies engaged in the fight against terrorism. This is but the most recent of many State Department actions over the last six years that have been counterproductive to US interest.