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Camerawoman who kicked refugees faces jail

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian camerawoman, Petra Laszlo, centre left in blue, kicks out at a young migrant who had just crossed the border from Serbia near Roszke, Hungary.
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian camerawoman, Petra Laszlo, centre left in blue, kicks out at a young migrant who had just crossed the border from Serbia near Roszke, Hungary.

A camerawoman who was filmed tripping up a refugee as he ran from police carrying his young son has been charged with breaching the peace. Petra László said her life was ”ruined” by the footage, which also showed her kicking a small girl as hundreds of asylum seekers broke through police lines near the Hungarian border to make their way towards Budapest.

László was fired from right-wing online television channelN1TV with immediate effect when the footage emerged and faces a prison sentence if convicted. Zsolt Kopasz, the chief prosecutor of Csongrad County, said an investigation had determined there was no ”reasonable chance” for Laszlo's actions ”to cause injury.” ”No data emerged which would have indicated that the conduct of the accused were motivated by ethnic considerations or by the migrant status of the victims,” he added, ruling out possible charges of racially-motivated hate crime.

Prosecutors said that while filming the events of 8 September at a registration camp in Roszke, László ”kicked a young man in the shin with a swift kick of the sole of her right foot, and also kicked young girl around the knee with her right foot”. Her trial will be held in the southern city of Szeged later this year. Breach of the peace carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison under Hungarian law.

The man she appeared to trip up, sending him and his son crashing to the ground, has since moved to Spain and been hired as a football coach in Madrid. Osama Abdul Mohsen, also known as Osama al-Ghadab, and his family lived in the eastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor but fled in 2013 when fighting intensified in the region. He said he joined peaceful demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad's government during the 2011 Arab Spring and then had to resign from his position with the regime's sport federation.

During the backlash sparked by László's case, critics accused him of supporting al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group but Mr Mohsen denied the allegations, which appeared to stem from a Facebook picture incorrectly thought to display the group's flag. ”I just want a better life,” he told the New York Times in an interview last year. ”I just want to live peacefully with my family and my friends.”

In a letter to right-wing newspaper Magyar Nemzet days after the incident, László said she ”sincerely regretted what happened” and had been frightened. ”Something snapped in me,” she wrote. ”With the camera in my hand I didn't see who was actually running towards me. I just felt I was being attacked and I had to protect myself.”

In a subsequent interview with the Izvestia newspaper, László said her life and career had been ”ruined” by the controversy and threatened to sue Facebook over threats and defamatory comments. Mr Mohsen and his son were among almost 400,000 refugees and migrants who passed through Hungary last year before the government constructed razor wire fences along the borders with Serbia and Croatia.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban also introduced controversial measures allowing police to ”escort” unregistered migrants found within five miles of the border back to Serbia, and has promised an even ”more massive fence” to stop any increase in numbers if the EU-Turkey deal falls through. Austria has threatened to take Hungary to the EU's highest court over its refusal to accept migrants turned back by the neighbouring country.

Wolfgang Sobotka, the Austrian interior minister, gave the warning yesterday as the government moved closer to passing a law that would shut the border to asylum seeker if the number reaches 37,500 this year. Government statistics show nearly 29,000 people this year had applied for asylum in Austria, by the end of July.

The United Nations and humanitarian organisations have raised concern about the restrictions in place in Hungary, Austria and elsewhere as thousands of refugees remain trapped in Greece or detained under the EU-Turkey deal. A series of boat disasters in the central Mediterranean has made the crossing between Libya and Italy the deadliest in the world, with more than 3,100 asylum seekers drowning so far this year.

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