But after a quick security check we’re in the building. Nobody asks for our personal identification; people seem satisfied when we explain that we are merely taking part in the proceedings as private individuals. We head to the first floor, in front of the courtroom, where people are already waiting – the atmosphere is visibly tense. The judge and her colleagues arrive, then a security officer asks us to clear the corridor. A police officer then steps up to an iron door and opens it – two, two-metre-tall, masked police officers armed from head-to-toe lead the “dangerous man” out, his hands are cuffed. A tall, gaunt man, with a startled look he searches for a familiar face and shyly gives us a nod. We file into the courtroom – the room is stifling and small, but there aren’t many of us, among the crowd besides the representatives of the right-wing media there are barely one or two civilians interested in the “terrorist” case. In the first row sit the accused, his customary guards, and the interpreter; the second and the third rows are taken by police witnesses – brawny, bald boys in elegant shirts, a tightly-knit group who dip into banter and jovial conversation from time to time during the hearing.
After the short summary the judge reads off the testimonies made earlier, noting that they are not in complete agreement with what has just been heard – in the previous testimonies, statements were made declaring that although at the beginning he tried to calm the crowd, later with the support of others he incited the crowd and stirred it up, and took part in shaking the fence. The witness comments that he stands by his earlier testimony. Then we are allowed to hear a rather brief reaction from Ahmed H. – an interpreter declares for him in slightly broken Hungarian, that he didn’t meet this policeman, that he never said or did such a thing. The judge gives no comment on his words.
A break follows during which an unambiguous spectacle is carried out as the accused is led back by his two much more robust, masked guards to the iron-doored room, and a third police officer carefully closes the door on them. Fifteen minutes later the door opens and the second part begins, where we watch never-ending, poor-quality police footage with no sound projected onto the wall, slightly awkwardly against the right-hand side of the room, directly opposite the bright windows, as a result those seating on the right of the room can’t see the footage, while for the rest it’s quite difficult to see anything thanks to the light from the windows. The material was recorded from behind the police line, as a result the image is often blocked by riot helmets and later shields, while somewhat further afield we can make out the crowd of people like an anthill on the far side of the fence. At parts deemed to be more important the judge requests her colleague handling the projection to zoom in – even after zooming in it’s impossible to get any perspective of the events.
Without a doubt the most trying part of the projection is that the witnesses were asked by the judge to make it known if they recognise themselves in the footage, and so throughout the footage which runs over two hours we regularly hear a cry from the police officers of “Judge! I’ve spotted myself!” all with such enthusiasm as though they’ve spotted themselves on television. Each time the judge stops and rewinds the film to the aforementioned minute, and has what can be seen taken down on record. It would be hard to give a brief summary of just how many insignificant details are heard during the projection from the judge’s mouth, who clearly bears an aversion towards the “migrants” continuously “making signs” and “throwing missiles” – at one point I feel I’ve made a mistake by not keeping a tally from the beginning how many times I hear these phrases from her mouth, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were in the hundreds. The most important things which come to light are by all means the following (the phrases in quotation marks are the judge’s words):
- Ahmed H. was present in the front line of the crowd.
- Ahmed H. did “make a sign” with his fingers, as did 40-50 of those with him. After a while the megaphone was given to him, into which he spoke – but what he said we don’t hear.
- The police officers continuously sprayed tear gas into the crowd, who did respond by “throwing missiles”.
- Many were clinging to the fence which from time to time opened. A few times Ahmed H. is also visible among them.
- A water cannon is used against the crowd.
- Ahmed H. took part in the “throwing of missiles at the police” – three such cases were caught on camera, the judge believes that in one case he held in his hand a lump of brick supposedly, larger than the palm of one’s hand.
- From time to time Ahmed H. carried children (“individuals”) in his arms.
- The “migrants” broke through the fence, and the TEK’s brutal “crowd dispersal” began.
Afterwards follows what is undoubtedly the saddest part of the proceedings: Ahmed H.’s short hearing. The judge asks him whether or not he will admit that he communicated with a megaphone on the Serbian side of the fence, that he made signs with his fingers, and that three times he threw missiles in the direction of the Hungarian police officers. Ahmed H. timidly says something to the interpreter, who begins his sentence: “I was with my family…”, at which point the judge snaps that there is no need for him to repeat his previous testimony, would he answer whether what she’s said matches with the truth. A hopeless “dialogue” begins between the extraordinarily aggressive judge and the accused weakly trying to defend himself, whose situation is only worsened by the fact that the interpreter doesn’t speak perfect Hungarian. It is to no avail that Ahmed H. explains that though he was indeed holding a megaphone, he was not trying to stir up the crowd, but to calm them down, and he would only have liked to speak with the police to tell them that they meant to harm, that they simply wanted to cross. This falls on deaf ears with the judge, in fact, she bombards the accused with ironically-toned, aggravated questions, accompanied by the muffled chuckling of the police officers. Without a doubt the questionable aspect of the testimony was the throwing of missiles, about which Ahmed H. states that he wasn’t aiming for the police but at an acquaintance with whom he’d had a dispute. This is certainly the point where the judge “comes to the end of her tether”.
Judge: But at that time there were no migrants in Hungary, where those three stones landed.
Interpreter: There were a lot of people between the police officers and the cordon. Which may not be clear in the footage.
J: Our eyesight must be bad then.
I: I didn’t want to throw things at the police. My parents are sick, I have children. I didn’t want anything but to continue on.
J: What was the distance between the fence and the cordon?
I: 30-40 metres, there were a lot of people in front of me, between myself and the fence.
J: In the footage there’s no one between you, the fence and the police cordon. Fine, so you didn’t mean to throw things at the police, is that right?
After the testimony is given the judge calls on one of the witnesses, to tell us how large the distance was between the fence and the cordon, at which the witness replies, five metres or less, another police officer announces that they thought it was two metres. The witnesses then agree in unison with the judge’s order that it was in fact two metres.
Another break follows, much to our delight because the temperature and the atmosphere inside are equally unbearable. Once again we see the guards lead the accused to the secure room, and we catch the moment as the police officer holding the key exchanges a significant grin with one of the witnesses. After half an hour we go back in – Ahmed is led past us and doesn’t look at us, as though he doesn’t want to see the looks on our faces. Broken, he stares ahead. A second projection follows which individuals have uploaded to YouTube from footage collected in various media. This time the quality isn’t much better but at least there’s sound, which doesn’t help much, since there’s a background noise of constant shouting. By no means is there any evidence from this footage that Ahmed H. was stirring up the crowd, nor can the alleged ultimatum be heard. Ahmed H. tries to speak with the police in English and Arabic, then with the crowd – an interesting aspect of the proceedings, that as we’re watching the footage, the judge is receiving a translation of Ahmed H.’s words from the same police interpreter who was present at the “riot”, and with whom after a while Ahmed H. refused to communicate. Then the judge reads out what sorts of sentences could be heard from the accused’s mouth according to analysts. We can confirm the following:
- The interpreter did ask the crowd to go to the transit zone.
- Somebody in the crowd shouts that they will cross whatever happens, one of the witness’s claims to recognise Ahmed H.’s voice.
- Ahmed H. tries to speak with the police officers, and tells them that the interpreter is lying, and tries to talk with them in English.
- Ahmed H. “makes signs”, or gesticulates as he explains. Pointing towards Hungary.
- Ahmed H. says in English: “Please tell me what we should do!”
- Ahmed H. says: “No problem.”
- Ahmed H. says: “We have children.”
- Ahmed H. says: “Open!”
- Ahmed H. says: “Nobody throw anything.”
- Ahmed H. says: “We love Hungarian police, we love Hungary.”
- Ahmed H. says: “The problem is we have children and sick among us.”
- Ahmed H. says: “We’re losing our patience.”
- A police officer informs Ahmed H. that the border is closed, that they should move to the right towards the transit zone, at which Ahmed H. asks where it is.
- Ahmed H. says to the crowd: “Wait, go back!”
- Other men shout at the police officers to open the gate.
One amusing part of the projection is that the witnesses don’t cease to play the spotting game: “That’s you, there!”, and similar sentences can be heard from the police officers’ mouths, who are visibly becoming more and more light-hearted, and it doesn’t quite get through to them as to why they are watching the video. The proceedings are brought to a close, the judge announces that the trial will be continued on 23 September, she notes that the travel expenses of the witnesses are of course refundable on the second floor. The guards lead away a tearful Ahmed H. who will have to wait another three months in prison, making it more than a year in custody before his hearing will be brought to a close. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we weren’t able to find any trace of the terror activities, and despite the fact that it was very clear that Ahmed H. was by no means the only leader among the crowd, or the most active and most violent, the police arrested him and ten others, among them Ahmed H.’s elderly sick parents. We can only hope that even though the judge visibly has an aversion to the accused, in the end she will be forced to give a favourable judgement thanks to a lack of evidence.
27th June 2016