Hungary to expel 14 Iranians amid virus 'show trial' claim
An employee walks across the security gates of the factory of German car maker Audi in Gyor, Hungary. AFP
Hungary said Wednesday it would expel 14 Iranian citizens for violating coronavirus quarantine rules, despite protests from Tehran and a rights group that called the decision a 'politically motivated show trial'.
Police lieutenant colonel Robert Kiss told a news briefing in Budapest that 11 of the group, all students, were to be expelled on Thursday, and another three on April 23. The Iranians "displayed blatantly anti-social, violent behaviour" while under quarantine in a Budapest hospital last month, said Kiss.
The expulsions follow a campaign against Iranians spearheaded by Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government and waged by pro-Orban media outlets. Budapest stopped issuing visas to Iranians over coronavirus fears March 3 while a day later Orban reported Hungary's first two cases of COVID-19 infection - both Iranian students - in a Facebook video message.
A figurehead for anti-immigration populists in Europe and beyond, Orban later blamed "foreigners and migration" for bringing and spreading the novel coronavirus in Hungary. Several Iranian students placed in quarantine soon after complained to media about hazardous health conditions at the hospital, where infected patients had been quarantined alongside healthy people.
According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), a rights group that represented one of the Iranians, Budapest made "absurd accusations" about their client and had "quarantined the rule of law". HHC said their client, a 33-year-old pharmacy student at a Budapest medical university, was put in hospital quarantine March 7.
The woman, who has lived in Hungary for nine years, was handed an expulsion order by the immigration authority within a week despite obeying the rules, according to HHC.
Her appeal against deportation to virus hotspot Iran was then rejected by a Budapest court April 8. "The whole procedure was a politically motivated show-trial with no regard for legal checks and safeguards, based on false charges that were never proven," Zsolt Szekeres, a HHC lawyer, told AFP Wednesday.
The authorities carried out a "higher order than they needed to get rid of the Iranians, it was collective punishment and expulsion," he said. A spokesperson for Iran's foreign ministry Abbas Mousavi told Iranian media last week that the expulsion decisions were "deeply regrettable".
The Hungarian government's press office has not yet responded to a request by AFP for comment. The affair cements a turnaround in relations between Hungary and Iran attributed by diplomats in Budapest to Orban's recent efforts to cosy up to US President Donald Trump.
Previously, Orban had sought to improve economic cooperation with Tehran -- including in the nuclear sector -- and welcomed Iranian students to study in Hungary, whose numbers doubled to over 2,000 between 2015 and 2018.
Hungary, which has a population of almost 10 million, has recorded almost 1,600 COVID-19 infections and 134 deaths. Orban was granted emergency powers indefinitely by the Hungarian parliament March 30 to tackle the pandemic and its impacts.