Tag Archives: Péter Bárándy

Justice in Orbán’s Hungary: The Ahmed H. case

As I was looking through my old posts to see my coverage of Ahmed H.’s trial for terrorism, which took place in 2016, I found to my astonishment that I hadn’t even mentioned the name of this Syrian man who received ten years for allegedly committing terrorism at the Serbian-Hungarian border. I have often been told that over the years the posts of Hungarian Spectrum can more or less serve as a timeline of Hungarian politics. I’m trying to cover all the important events, but, as is clear from this example, I don’t always succeed.

The omission is especially egregious because Ahmed’s alleged terrorism case was one of the pretexts for the government’s attempt to introduce a new category of emergencies that could be declared in the event of a “situation created by a terrorist threat.” Ahmed’s arrest and the subsequent charge of terrorism against him were followed by an unprecedented hate campaign against migrants. This Syrian man from Cyprus, where he has been living legally for the last ten years, became a symbol for all those vicious terrorists who want to overrun Hungary. The only problem with the Hungarian government’s plan was that the terrorism case against Ahmed H. was mighty weak.

Even if I missed covering the original trial, I can now make up for it, at least in part, by reporting on the ruling of the appellate court on June 15 and by recalling some of the events that led to the news that Ahmed has a second chance to receive a fair trial. The appellate court found the work of the court of first instance so flawed that the whole case must be retried–and not, as the judge made clear, by the same panel of judges.

Representatives of such civic organizations as Amnesty International and Migszol, a group formed at the time of the refugee crisis in Hungary in the summer of 2015, have been calling Ahmed H.’s trial a “conceptual show trial.” Looking through the available documents, one thing is sure. The Orbán government very much wanted to find someone guilty of terrorism. It needed such a verdict for its anti-migrant drive. Ahmed seemed to fit the bill. He had a bullhorn and was talking to the crowd in several languages, including English. He allegedly incited the crowd to violence, repeatedly threatened the security forces, and then joined the disturbances that took place on September 16, 2015. He was also charged with illegally crossing the border. On November 30 Ahmed H. was sentenced to a 10-year prison term.

The trial was a mockery of judicial fairness. The judge refused to hear the testimony of more than 20 defense witnesses and ignored the fact that the prosecution’s main witness, a police officer, was not certain of the accused’s identity. It was true that Ahmed threw a couple of items during the melee, but there was no proof that he hit anyone. He claimed that he tried to calm the people. But even if he was guilty of all the crimes he was accused of, did Ahmed H. deserve 10 years? Gauri van Gulik, deputy director of Amnesty International for Europe, said that “to sentence Ahmed to 10 years in prison for a terrorist act is absurd.”

The spokesman for Fidesz expressed the party’s delight after the initial verdict was announced. He repeated the slogan on the billboards: “every migrant must learn that, once in the country, he must honor the laws of Hungary.” But those outside the circle of Fidesz and its followers were stunned. The United States asked the Hungarian government to conduct a transparent investigation of the incidents at the border that would include an independent civic organization. The government should review Ahmed’s case. As far as the United States is concerned, it will follow the case’s future handling, the statement promised. It didn’t take long for the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to respond, telling the United States that criticizing the work of the court may be allowed in the United States but not in Hungary. Moreover, in Hungary it is not the civic organizations that decide on the guilt or innocence of people but the courts. The ministry spokesman ended his harangue by saying that “we can promise one thing: Hungary will never demand an explanation of U.S. court decisions on terrorists attacking American policemen.”

A week before Ahmed H.’s case was to be continued at the Szeged Appellate Court, the Hungarian media reported that Péter Bárándy, one of the best lawyers in Hungary who was minister of justice between 2002 and 2004 in the Medgyessy government, was going to be Ahmed’s defense lawyer. (There is some indirect evidence that Bárándy had been working on the case since at least March.)

Ahmed H. has had four lawyers, including Bárándy. First, he had a court-appointed lawyer. Then a local Szeged lawyer took over who, according to a member of Migszol, “during the trial sat quietly and wasted not one word in defense of his client.” Two weeks before the end of the trial he quit. The accused got another court-appointed lawyer who apparently did at least try to defend his client, unfortunately without much success.

The news of Péter Bárándy’s appearance as the lawyer for the defense was not exactly welcome news in government circles, but it did give Fidesz leaders an opportunity to connect “terrorism” with its alleged supporters, the Hungarian liberals and socialists. In fact, Gyula Budai, the man who in 2010 was entrusted by Viktor Orbán to bring all socialist and liberal “criminals” to justice, gave a press conference in which he charged that the Soros organizations, Brussels, and the socialists are working hand in hand to free Ahmed H. and therefore “they support terrorism.” He used strong words like “while Europe is terrified of terrorism, Brussels is openly supporting it.” He wanted to know “who is paying the lawyer” and called on MSZP to give an account.

Péter Bárándy in the courtroom

At the trial the prosecutor mostly praised the excellent decision that had been reached in the lower court. But he found the sentence of 10 years, the minimum for those accused of terrorism, insufficient and asked the court for 17.5 years instead. It was then Bárándy’s turn, who pointed out that he found 205 serious mistakes in the proceedings of the lower court. Here, of course, I cannot recount all of them. But I think a couple of examples will give a good idea of the kind of justice that was meted out to Ahmed H. A key charge against him was that he was the leader of the crowd that was throwing rocks against the police. A video, however, showed that the rock throwing had been going on for at least 45 minutes before Ahmed got hold of the bullhorn. In addition, the judge ignored the existence of a video taken by a policewoman which, as opposed to other videos, also contained sound and it doesn’t support Ahmed’s alleged incitement of the crowd. On the contrary, he can be heard saying to the fellow refugees “please, wait, stay here,” “please advise,” “we speak English, we don’t want an Arabic interpreter, we are asking for someone who speaks English.” And finally he told the refugees in Arabic, “no, wait, go back, please go back.” The verdict also claimed that Ahmed gave the police two hours to open the border. How did the police know this? He held up two fingers. But this can also mean “victory.” Finally, he was found guilty of illegally crossing the border, but even that judgment was wrong because Ahmed had free access to all EU countries, including Hungary. At the most, Ahmed was guilty of a misdemeanor (szabálysértés).

Ahmed H. with his back toward us is trying to calm the crowd / Source: police.hu

After the appellate court sent the case back to the lower court for a retrial, Zsolt Bayer wrote an opinion piece in Magyar Idők titled “H. Bárándy and Ahmed Péter.” Bayer may seem to have gotten a little mixed up. I assume you get the gist of what he wants to tell us. It was a relief to read close to the end of the article that “we are not going to incarcerate the judge [of the appellate court] or H. Bárándy.” That’s awfully charitable.

Let’s end this post on a lighter note. The management of state television M1 channel most likely was certain that the Ahmed H.’s verdict would not be reversed or annulled. Perhaps he will even get 17.5 years as the prosecution demanded. They decided to send a camera crew to the trial along with their legal experts who were supposed to give live commentary. For three solid hours one could watch the trial. Once the decision was handed down, however, M1 ended the live broadcast in a great hurry. No further commentary necessary.

The reaction of the top Fidesz leadership has been as expected–a complete denial of any possibility that the original verdict could be flawed and a charge that the socialists, the civic organizations, Brussels, and everybody else under the sun are working together to open the borders and let in all those migrants who are in Bayer’s words members of “the terrible mob of Mordor, the Third World.”

June 18, 2017

Negotiations between Hungarian democratic parties and civic organizations began

On December 27, 2012 we learned that the democratic opposition parties and organizations at the behest of MSZP will begin negotiations on January 2 with a view toward creating a common platform. Their first task will be forming a joint declaration of their commitment to “the rule of law, constitutionality and democracy.”

MSZP apparently arrived at the negotiations “well prepared,” claimed Tamás Harangozó, a relatively new face in the party. Lately Harangozó has been in the news as one of the victims of László Kövér’s ire, which prompted the speaker to announce that “the gentlemen to my left should be grateful to be able to sit in this chamber at all.” Later Kövér was forced to apologize. Demokratikus Koalícó’s delegation, comprised of Dezső Avarkeszi, Judit Csiha, and Anna Buzás, a university student, is led by Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of the party.

By yesterday, it became clear that representatives of MSZP, MSZDP (Magyar Szociáldemokrata Párt), DK and Együtt 2014 (which by now everybody calls E14) will be at today’s meeting. If all goes well, the negotiations will continue until the parties are ready to nominate candidates for each of the electoral districts, most likely sometime late fall of this year. Viktor Szigetvári, vice chairman of Haza és Haladás Alapítvány established by Gordon Bajnai, will be one of the negotiators of E14. Szigetvári opened the gate to other organizations that might like to join over and above those eight that were initially asked to participate. But already by yesterday we knew that LMP and 4K! would not be at the negotiating table.

Apparently 4K! would participate in the current negotiations only if there were a prior understanding according to which after a victorious election the elected parliament would declare itself to be a constitutional convention. Once the new constitution was adopted, the government would resign and new elections would be held.

Another party that refuses to work with the others is LMP. As András Schiffer confidently predicted this morning on ATV’s Start, LMP will be able to win the elections against Fidesz on its own. All those people involved in the negotiations are politicians of the past who are responsible for the present state of affairs and therefore he refuses to cooperate with them. During his conversation with the reporter he showed himself to be altogether inflexible. LMP, he declared, is true to its original political declaration. It doesn’t matter that circumstances have changed; his party will refuse to change its position. Such inflexibility is a sure sign of a bad politician.

Unity / Wikimedia Commons

Unity / Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to members of the delegations there is an interesting development: Péter Bárándy, minister of justice in the Medgyessy government,  is heading the E14 delegation dealing with constitutional issues while his son Gergely Bárándy, as MSZP’s legal expert, will represent MSZP’s point of view.

The negotiations began today with a discussion about the rule of law. More specifically, how a new democratic government can handle the situation Fidesz has created in the last two and a half years. After all, a new government can legally change the recently erected far from democratic structure only if it musters a two-thirds majority. I’m sure it will not be an easy topic to agree on. I think that not all people will agree with Viktor Szigetvári (Haza és Haladás) who is adamant on the subject. There are others who see legal loopholes that might circumvent the fairly unlikely occurrence of acquiring such a large electoral majority. Others, I am sure, will argue that the Fidesz political appointees planted for very long tenures could for all intents and purposes paralyze the work of the new government if they remain in their posts. E14 is obviously well prepared for such arguments and came to the negotiating table with a seven-page document. The restoration of the rule of law in the opinion of the E14 leaders is not an end in itself but a beginning.

E14 is also adamant that a new constitution cannot be a document supported by only one half of the population. “Formal legitimacy” is not enough. “Lasting and respected government by all can be created only if it is supported by a significant portion of civil society.” In brief, E14 believes that convincing a large part of the present Fidesz supporters is a must. The legal experts helping E14 are theoretically right in this regard, but looking at it from the perspective of practical politics I find it hard to believe that in a year and a half there will be a real change of heart among the absolutely devoted followers of Viktor Orbán.

There are some specific steps that should be taken immediately after the elections: to put an end to the practice of retroactive laws, to abolish the Media Council, to end parliament’s jurisdiction over the functioning of the churches, and to rewrite the electoral law, including the practice of registration that at the moment is still in the hands of the Constitutional Court. E14 would also restore the powers of local governments, but it wouldn’t abolish the newly established “járás” system. However, the government offices established within that system would be put under the jurisdiction of local governments within the “járás.” Naturally E14 would work toward the elimination of corruption by making party and campaign finances transparent. It also insists on making the documents relating to the Rákosi and Kádár regime’s internal security agencies and their agents publicly available.

According to Origo E14 arrived at the negotiations with an alternative plan for a new constitution. It was apparently Péter Bárándy’s job to outline a constitution that is in line with a modern democratic state. If, however, the opposition isn’t able to come up with a two-thirds majority E14 also has plans for “a more modest constitutional correction” that would include the restoration of the Constitutional Court’s former competence  before the Orbán government’s restrictions on it. In addition, they would greatly reduce the number of cardinal laws, i.e. laws that need a two-thirds majority to alter.

After three hours, the word was that the representatives of all the groups agreed on all points. But naturally the devil is in the details. Next week MSZP would like to move on to economic matters, but E14 already indicated that first its representatives would like to close the discussion on the rule of law and the constitution.

In any case, from the few descriptions of the negotiations I read the beginnings sound very promising.