"Free the Röszke 11" - The significance of the Röszke Trials in the context of the European Border Regime
The full report of Refugee Support Serbia about the context and significance of the Röszke trials!
(See shorter version in Publications)
The context: Summer of Migration and the Hungarian State's Attempt to Regain Sovereignty
A sequence of decisions taken by European Governments based on the reality that was created by people migrating over the so called „Balkanroute“ constitutes the Summer of Migration and led to the establishment of a „Humanitarian Corridor“ in the course of 2015. On the 18th of June 2015 the Macedonian government passed a law that permitted people to legally transit the country within 72 hours. This law was copied from the Serbian authorities. Consequentially the movement of thousands of people passing this route was given a legal frame.
With the increasing numbers of people moving a high number of people gathered in Budapest. From there they traveled further towards northern and western European states with the help of smugglers. As a reaction to the irregular migration movement the right-wing government under prime minister Victor Órban decided to erect a fence on the entire Serbian-Hungarian border.
It is important to know that the physical closure of the border went hand in hand with an enforcement of the asylum law and illegally entering the country was made a crime in the Hungarian state. “The way that thousands of people had crossed into Hungary by simply walking across the border or by climbing over or crawling under the fence had been alright the previous day, but was going to be illegal from the next” (Migszol 28.06.2016).
The Horgoš Riots
It is important to note that most of the people who arrived at the border on the 14th of September haven't had a chance to get to know what was decided and that the Hungarian border had been closed legally and physically. But what is even more crucial is the situation the people were facing individually: only because they have arrived some days, or even only hours too late, they have been left without opportunity to easily cross. In total, the protest lasted for three days. In general, the people only stood in front of the fence hoping that the border will open up again. They shouted slogans, held banners and were talking to the police. Only in the very last sequence the riots escalated. The police amplified and responded to the escalation with tear gas and water cannons.
“A message was then spread from the side of the police that the people could now enter Hungary. This was celebrated as a victory, followed by chanting of thank you slogans for Hungary. They started walking, and made it for 150 meters, and the riot police allowed them to go onwards. The problems began when the unmarked, unidentifiable unit of the counterterrorist police attacked the crowd. The unit was trying to catch people, but of course the young and more healthy people were able to escape, and the vulnerable people could not escape and were seized by the authorities” (Migszol 28.06.2016).
And this is how the Hungarian state picked the eleven accused people: Those who were unable to escape fast enough. This modus operandi is also the main reason why an extraordinary high number of the accused people have physical disabilities: one is sitting in a wheelchair, another is missing the articulation from his hip and a third one is an old half-blinded 64-year old woman with diabetes.
The Defendants: The Röszke Eleven
After being picked arbitrarily from the crowd, ten of them have been accused of the laws hot off the press. The eleventh, Ahmad H. is facing accusations even more preposterous to common sense: he, only because he was communicating through the megaphone, is accused of terrorism; a crime that is sentenced with up to 20 years in prison. The three mentioned above were taken under “house arrest” in so called “asylum detention” since then. The other eight were held in pre-trial detention in Szeged and Kecskemét, actual “normal prisons”. Their only “crime” was to seek for safety, which is a fundamental human right and legal under international law, and the Hungarian state responded with closing them up in extremely bad conditions.
The investigations on the cases drew on the exact same line. For instance, there have been allegedly manipulated translations on paper with changed meanings and added paragraphs. “E.g. where the original written testimony said that 'we will go towards the border to cross it' it was translated as 'we will go to the border to violently break through no matter what' to make them look like they confessed a crime they did not actually do” (Migszol 28.06.2016). The lawyers had first not been allowed to review the footage. Looking at it after four month, then, prevailed why it had been kept closed: it does not show anything – just the three defendants standing on the ground. There have been six hearings until the final decision was taken on the 1st of July, and even until then it has been already clear to many observers: This is a show trial.
After already having some hearings some activists from Hungary and Serbia attended the final hearings between the 27th of June and the 1st of July 2016. Ahmad's case has been on the 27th of June, the trial of the others on the 30th of June and 1st of July 2016. Basically, there are two separate trials – one of them for Ahmad and one for the other ten people accused of illegally entering Hungary and participating in a mass riot.
The only witnesses that were cross-examined were policemen. Many of them couldn't even remember what was happening during the riot. All the lawyers tried to stress the circumstances of the protests, tried to appeal to humanity, to logic, to reasonable arguments. In contrary to that, the behavior of the judge in the trial of Ahmad H. was gruesome and against all principles of the rule of law as somebody who attended the trial stated afterwards. “The judge seemed as if in her head the case was already sentenced. She knew all the details, was directing everything in that direction. (N., an activist in retrospection on the protest). Everyone apart from Ahmad (his trial is still going on) has been sentenced. Punishment: 1 to 3 years without probation. The prosecutor already announced to go into revision: he considers the sentences as too weak and demands harder punishment.
Significance in the European Border Regime – Protests and International Solidarity
Seen as one piece in the kaleidoscopic ensemble of practices, regulations, institutions and acts that encircle the aim of controlling migration, the trial on the Röszke Eleven acquires crucial significance. Being held as a show trial that is performed in order to further enforce the image of “criminal asylum seekers” as a threat to the Hungarian society it can be seen as a precedence case for the Hungarian audience, as well as for the refugees still crossing the fence to Hungary. It becomes clear that the Hungarian state is at war against people migrating, and the Röszke Eleven are the first who have been publicly litigated. The whole trial was saturated by racist mindsets, xenophobia and a demonstration of power by a state.
These days, showing solidarity and fighting for justice becomes more and more criminalized in and outside the EU. The European Border Regime crystallizes in the case of the Röszke Eleven, and, as a tip of an iceberg, in the case of Ahmad H. the Hungarian judiciary already made it's decision and even the lawyers acquired a quite pessimistic view on the chances of a fair trial. The only chance that is left, especially for Ahmad, is international support and awareness.
“It's important to show solidarity as a form of direct action. […] For the people who are in prison, for the first time in one year there was some reaction on their case. And they saw this reaction just for two minutes, just on the way from the police car to the court. But I believe this was enough for them, for the first time to see people (except lawyers) who are there for them. That they are not forgotten” (N. from No Border Serbia).
The next hearing of Ahmad will be on 23rd of September. If there is not any outrage on an international level, the Röszke Eleven will remain forgotten. This international support is the only glimpse of hope on a horizon of cruelty. Therefore we ask everyone of you to step into action and start solidarity campaigns in your places, too. Let's support the Röszke Eleven and show solidarity!
Written by Refugee Support Serbia in Cooperation with Migszol Csoport Budapest, borrdermonitoring.eu Hungary, No Border Serbia.
If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact refugeesupportserbia [at] riseup.net.
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