Sunday, January 15, 2017

Petra Laszlo Gets Three-Year Suspended Sentence

Petra Laszlo tripping Osama Abdul Mohsen and
his seven year-old son Zaid
It's been just over 16 months since Hungarian camerawoman Petra Laszlo made global headlines during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe.

Laszlo was one of many journalists capturing images of terrified Syrian refugees desperately trying to evade capture by police in a field near a makeshift relocation camp outside the Hungarian village of Roszke next to the Serbian border.

But instead of just using her camera, Laszlo famously stuck out her leg and tried to kick at the legs of a little girl holding the hand of her father.

Laszlo didn't stop there, she successfully tripped a 56-year-old Syrian football coach named Osama Abdul Mohsen, sending him toppling to the ground on top of  his terrified seven year-old son Zaid (pictured above).

Unbeknownst to Laszlo, another journalist captured video footage of her intentionally trying to trip the little girl, and another journalist took photos her tripping Mohsen and his son.

The video of the incident went viral, and the footage captured not just Laszlo's reprehensible actions, but the heart-rendering images and sounds of crying, traumatized children and adults who've fled war-torn Syria trying to pass through Hungary to find sanctuary in Europe.

News of her actions exploded across social media and her name and photo quickly spread to mainstream media as well, earning widespread condemnation from people across the globe.

Xenophobic Camerawoman Petra Laszlo
It was soon revealed that Laszlo was actually working for N1TV, an Internet news channel with ties to Hungary's right-wing anti-immigrant Jobbik party.

In November the UK's Independent reported that the Jobbik party was conditionally supporting a constitutional amendment submitted to the Hungarian parliament that would permanently ban the resettlement of refugees in Hungary.

As Robert Mackey reported in an article in the New York Times, as outrage swelled over Laszlo's actions, N1TV, which functions as a something of a propaganda arm for the Jobbik party, fired her; saying that she had "behaved in an unacceptable manner" in a statement.

Last Thursday Laszlo appeared at a hearing via video link in Szeged district court in Hungary to answer for her actions.

As Vladimir Kozlov and Nick Holdsworth reported for The Hollywood Reporter, a judge rejected Laszlo's absurd claim that she tripped and kicked fleeing Syrian refugees in self defense and gave her a three year suspended sentence and ordered her to pay a fine equal to about $183.

It's delayed justice but it is a measure of justice for innocent refugees.

Osama and Zaid Mohsen
But more importantly at a time when right-wing populist political movements are gaining traction and influence in different parts of Europe, and Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric has stirred up xenophobia here in America, Hungary's court system deserves credit for holding Laszlo accountable for her actions.

Nothing can fix the trauma seven year-old Zaid Mohsen experienced on that day in Hungary, but at least what he and his father experienced brought global attention to the plight of Syrian refugees.

And the Hungarian legal system made clear that unwarranted acts of hate or prejudice against refugees will not be tolerated.

That said, at least this particular story has a somewhat happy ending.

As Nicolas Lupo Sonnabend reported for last February, a week after he and his son were tripped by Laszlo, they were able to make their way to Spain.

Today they live in the town of Getafe near Madrid, where he works as a football coach at the CENAFE football coach academy - and more importantly, has a legal residency permit.

He is still trying to cut through regulatory red tape to get his wife and other two children in the country from Turkey.

In a reflection of the complexity of issues facing refugees fleeing war or political persecution, to get his wife and other children into the country legally, Spanish law requires that Mohsen obtain documents from the Syrian embassy in Beirut.

But because he has expressed open criticism of the Syrian regime, he could be risking his life and freedom to go the Syrian embassy - opponents of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad face persecution, jail, torture or worse.

But for now, unlike thousands of other refugees from the mid-east and Africa, Osama and Zaid Mohsen are safe in Spain.

Despite the best efforts of Petra Laszlo.

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