New "Guantanamo Bay" in Vienna / Austria
ALERT: 06. June 2008 - Ten innocent animal-rights professionals and activists are held already now since two weeks in the dungeons of Vienna under trumped up charges and without any concrete evidence being provided by the state authorities concerning any wrongdoing. The health of those on hunger strike is deteriorating rapidly.The head of the registered animal-rights charity VGT (www.vgt.at), Dr. Dr. Martin Balluch, is already so weak that he had to be transferred into the sick-bay of that Austrian detention centre, where he is held without any evidence concerning the official charge. As from Friday he might have to be put on a live-saving drip. Like in the other 9 cases, also his lawyers were not even given the possibility to have the legally guaranteed full access to the court and prosecution files. The Austrian state is far off its own constitution, its laws and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Further investigations into the Austrian filth and the link between the brothers Peter and Werner Graf, owners of an Austrian chain of clothing-supermarkets who are not refraining from trading in fur from animals, and certain highest political office bearers as well as their connection to these atrocities against the animal-rights activists are under way. It seems that there are serious implications concerning members of the party of the austrian conseratives (övp) and business interests behind this affair as the Austrian animal-rights movement has achieved many progressive law changes to the benefit of animals in the last years and the conservatives, who are in a coalition government and seem able to manipulate the media, want to beat back.
Whistleblowers are encouraged to contribute and to show the filth in Austrian politics and state-protected rotten businesses. (Human rights violations in connection with the OMV oil activities in Sudan until 2004 are being re-assessed and new allegations concerning human rights violations sourrounding the activities of OMV in Pakistan are under way.)
- Most if not all activities of animal rights activists in Austria and their legally registered charities were and are clandestinely observed by Austrian state organs. Phone calls, e-mails and other communication of people, who openly say that they stand for the legally enshrined rights of animals, have been recorded and are listed in all details since at least the year 2000.
- The addition of paragraph 278a to the Austrian penal code was introduced to combat serious organized crime (like drugs and human trafficking or money laundering and fake money production / circulation), but it is now misused to spy on ordinary citizens, who only defend the legally enshrined rights of animals and struggle for their better legal protection.
- During the raids on 21. May 2008 several arrested people were refused their basic right to contact a lawyer or next of kin, which summons to forced abduction. All communication equipment and the data stored (incl. even the cell-phone registered private phone-numbers of people) had been immediately confiscated by the state organs and the police therefore also removed also all the evidence of crimes against animals, collected by these organization over many years and the databases concerning their contacts and sponsors. These raids were carried out not only concerning those organizations, which have a link to the detainees, but even against not accused organizations. The authorities so far refuse to return any of this vital equipment and data, though not a single specific accusation has been made and the prosecutor could not provide any detail for any wrongdoing of any of the persecuted detainees or raided organizations.
- The state prosecution was not able to point out a single specific misdeed concerning any of the detainees. They are kept now since two weeks in detention centres, because the authorities claim that if released the detainees could abscond or hinder further investigations. This means that innocent citizens are holed up in detention centres without clear charges brought forward and held under dreamed up and trumped up charges of conspiracy to further criminalize them, their friends and families. The last time such happened in Austria was in the past dark days and under Adolf Hitler, which did lead to World War II. Serious vigilance and intervention is therefore required from the international community to avert the further deterioration of human rights and the legal system in Austria.
- The legal representation has not even access to the files, which are claimed by the state prosecutor to contain indications pointing towards planned criminal activities, because also here it is pretended that the legal right of the defence lawyers to get access to the files of the prosecution would again hinder further investigation. So what is this? The Austrian state arrests innocent citizens, claims that they have sufficient evidence, but refuses to lay it open because they fear that the (presumed non-existing) evidence could not be fully established if the detained people would be released. All 2000 pages of documents presented by the prosecution so far do not provide any evidence in any single case for any wrongdoing and certainly not for any charge that would justify to invoke the provisions of newly introduced paragraph 278a of the Austrian penal code. Other vital prosecution files are continuously and illegally withheld from the defence-lawyers and their right to file a complaint is bluntly refused by the state.
- In addition the legally enshrined duty of the state prosecutor to inform at least the defence lawyers of the detainees about important decisions, like the transfer of prisoners to other locations, is violated daily and often the legal representatives are only informed by media releases about such grave decisions of the prosecution. Their official complains are ignored or even bluntly denied.
- 6 of the 10 detained animal rights professionals and activists have gone on hunger strike and have vowed that they only would start to take food, if they either would be officially accused of any wrongdoing with detailed charges or until they would be set free. Their health status is deteriorating fast, since the hunger strike is now going on since two weeks. What is specifically grave is the fact that even medical attention has been refused to several detainees.
- State terror and violations of basic human rights is happening daily in these cases e.g. by locking the non-smoking detainees together with chain-smoking hard-core criminals, not allowing them to wash themselves or change clothes or not even providing them the necessary application papers to receive books or other reading material from friends. Medical aid is withheld but DNA samples are taken against the will of these state-hostages.
- Though members of the official opposition in Austria have raised serious questions about all these happenings even in parliament, neither the lady-minister of justice, Frau Dr. Maria Berger, who just had hardly survived a non-confidence vote in the Austrian parliament, nor her government counterpart of the Ministry of Interior, Herr Dr Günter Platter, have responded. Official letters sent by numerous human rights organizations from all over the world to these officials remain unanswered. Even the Nobel-peace-laureate Mrs. Elfriede Jellinek, who publicly stated her solidarity with the detainees, was not respected by the Austrian state moguls.
- These cases of state repression and persecution of innocent citizens have already triggered numerous demonstrations inside Austria but also abroad and in front of numerous Austrian embassies.
- It further must be observed that the Austrian media, obsessed in the moment only with football (soccer), are under heavy pressure by the state to not inform the general public about these state-sponsored acts of terror and oppression. It is already feared by many that a free press seems to no longer exist in Austria and a recent representative public opinion poll did provide the stunning result that already 88% of all Austrians believe their politicians to be constant and outright liars.
At around 6:00 am on Wednesday May 21 members of the Viennese elite police force (WEGA) stormed several apartments in Vienna. Some of the residents were woken up in their beds with guns drawn on them. A total of twenty-three (23) apartments, houses and offices were searches in Vienna, Lower Austria, Styria and Tirol.
In many of the apartments the WEGA squad broke forcefully into the houses and kicked in the doors. The officers stormed the apartments like in bad Holly- or Bollywood movies. Only after the residents had been intimidated, “secured” on the wall and/or put in handcuffs did the police start the searches.
The reason for the searches was the accusation: Formation of a Criminal Organization according to §278a of the criminal code, an act introduced recently and similar to the AETA (Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act)in the US in order to criminalize animal rights activists.There were arrest warrants for 10 of the people targeted by the searches. The basis of the arrest warrants was the accusation of Danger of the Destruction of Evidence (because, for example, the targeted people communicated via encrypted e-mails, which is perfectly legal in Austria and elsewhere and common practice among business people or e.g. medical doctors) as well as Danger of Committing a Crime (partially because the targeted people have been active in the animal rights scene for a long time). Both lines of argumentation stand in blatant opposition to the presumption of innocence. The accusation of forming a criminal organization is completely and arbitrarily constructed and used only to hold the detainees responsible for all unsolved criminal offences of the last few years. The accusations are not substantiated by any evidence; on the contrary – the authorities apparently only hope to find via the house searches evidence, which would confirm their suspicions . But up until now and also in the future the suspicion of Forming a Criminal Organization can not be corroborated neither by evidence nor vague assumptions.
The targeted persons were brought directly from their apartments to the police detention centre at Rossauer Lände and were brought before a custodial judge, after which the targeted persons were being remanded to Wiener Neustadt.
During the house searches a large part of the targeted persons were denied the ability to call a person of their confidence or legal representatives. Friends who wanted to observe the legality of the actions were also denied and not given any possibility to speak to the targeted persons.
The actions of the authorities were far out of any proportion. The early morning storming of the apartments by masked WEGA officers with drawn weapons can only be described as completely excessive.
The Austrian State violates article 6 sec. 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and its own penal code (§ 8 StPO), whereby every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty as well as its legislation concerning the right of every arrested person to immediately contact a lawyer (art. 4sec. 7 PersFrG ). The state violates obviously also the right of the defence lawyers to have access to the files of the prosecution (§ 51 sec. 2 last sentence of the Austrian StPO) and because it did not inform the arrested people concerning the reason for their arrest and detention the Austrian state violates superior European law (art. 5 sec. 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights).
It remains unclear what the specific motive for these operations was. It can be assumed that the time and realization of these operations have a political background, when even the general public in Austria (86%) press for having the rights of animals enshrined in the constitution as it is the case in Germany or Switzerland already. In any case unpopular political actions are being criminalized and made impossible. Should this wave of repression, which obviously was decreed from those in power, remain unquestioned or unchallenged, this wave will certainly hit other forms of resistance and areas of activism.
The repression of leftist structures reached a new high point in Austria with this wave of house searches and arrests. House searches by masked WEGA officers who kick down doors and and wake sleeping persons with drawn weapons have not been employed against the radical left in the past several years. The last time that a similar house search was made happened after the Opera Ball Protest in 2001 directed against the EKH (a squat and autonomous centre in Vienna).
This sort of action from the officials does not only ignite fear in the targeted persons, which already amounts to state-terrorism per se. but friends, family and other activists are intended to be frightened by such actions as well. These excessive and brutal police operations tries to communicate that any legal and democratic resistance against the establishment will be broken by all means. We can not allow ourselves to be isolated from one another.
We are asking for solidarity for those targeted by the wave of repression. It does not matter if you are vegan, feminist, anti-fascist, contra surveillance, and against atomic energy or police brutality – we are all targeted, even if only a few are directly affected at the moment!
Ten animal rights activists have been sitting now in pre-trial detention jail for over two weeks. Their detention is based on a trumped up charge of “Forming a Criminal Organization,” under §278a StGB (penal code), similar to the US-induced anti-terrorism-law of Germany or the AETA of the US.
The next date on which further internment in the detention jail will be decided upon will take place either on Friday, June 6 or on Monday, June 9 2008. Until then there is little to no hope that the prisoners will be released.
Some of the prisoners were moved from the detention centre in Wiener Neustadt to Vienna (Justizanstalt Josefstadt) and Eisenstadt respectively, without any reason and without notifying the attorneys. We can only speculate as to the reasons – the prosecutors ramble on about the danger of destruction of evidence – but we believe the intention is the scattering and splitting up of the protests and demonstrations in front of the jail in Wiener Neustadt.
We refuse to allow ourselves to be intimidated by this new attempt of repression, and we will not stop letting the imprisoned animal rights professionals and activists know that we will not abandon them and will continue to support them.
We will continue to travel to the jails – solidarity is more than just a word! (see also: http://antirep2008.lnxnt.org)
Because some of the prisoners were moved, the addresses for writing letters have also changed. Some of those imprisoned do not want their names published, we accept this and ask you to take consideration of this fact as well. Because we cannot assume that the prisoners will stay in any one certain place, we ask you to send your letters to the prisoners in an envelope (first name is sufficient and if you do not know the people personally, then you even do not need to address your letter of support to anyone specific). Please send your letter(s) of support enclosed in a further envelope to Antirep 2008, Postfach 101, A-1070 Wien, Austria (EU) and we will forward the mail directly to the prisoners.