As my right as accused (§176 StPo) I would like to take this opportunity to make a statement. After all, this concerns two months of my life. Two months which, according to the Public Prosecution, I should spend in a cell. In the past seven weeks imprisonment I have had to share a cell with a violent offender, who after having been sentenced five times already, has now been sentenced to exactly two months for committing grievous bodily harm. So, the judgement to be passed today is of grave importance.
The Public Prosecution has read out a long and impressive list of offences. One might well be forgiven for thinking that almost every shop has had windows broken and shop floor areas stunk out with butanoic acid. However, had the Prosecution read out a list of all car accidents which have happened over the last years, one would get the impression that nearly everyone must have been involved in a road traffic accident. But, wait! It is only through a statistical analysis that we can really assess such a list objectively.
Fact is, compared to international figures, the number of crimes associated with animal welfare in Austria is incredibly small!
Even in countries where animal welfare is less established such as the Czech Republic, Mexico or Spain there are higher numbers of animal welfare motivated offences. This is the case even though statistically speaking, Austria is the most animal welfare active country in the world. In terms of animal welfare over 600 animal protection protests, over 150 animal protection actions and over 50 animal protection events every year have to be weighted against a handful of criminal cases related to animal protection.
From a sociological point of view the interesting question is actually why animal welfare motived offenses are so minimal in Austria?
And further: why in that case has this draconian police operation been carried out precisely here in Austria?
The Public Prosecution and the animal welfare Special Commission set up by the Ministry of the Interior have carried out investigations for the last two years. They were unable to solve a single case, despite the massive surveillance measures taken which included wire tapping, bugging of telephones and homes, police infiltration and spying. Instead of coming to the logical conclusion that they were obviously on the wrong track and that maybe those responsible for criminal activities could be individuals operating alone or in small autonomous groups that do not publicly engage in animal protection, as indeed stated in the police files, the authorities wade in with a massive assault.
The reason can be understood as follows: Public Prosecution and the Special Commission do not want to lose face and be seen as unsuccessful and incompetent. Therefore, it was decided to carry out massive raids necessitating huge numbers of specially trained police officers against Austria’s most active animal protectionists. And how were these measures justified? In the absence of any concrete suspicion a nebulous concept of a criminal organisation was construed. Because such an organisation needs to consist of 10 persons, 10 were randomly taken into custody. The fact that these people don’t know each other and are involved with groups which have had no contact to each other for years, indeed groups which more or less regard each other as enemies, was completely ignored.
It is also remarkable that the Public Prosecution and the police have both persistently refused to interview me or present any evidence against me, although my lawyer has been making these requests for weeks. What other conclusion is one to draw from this other than they have no questions and no evidence.
A few critical questions immediately show that the accusation of a large criminal organisation is untenable:
Why should those responsible for animal welfare motivated criminal activities be from a large organisation and not small autonomous groups? There is no evidence to support the existence of a large group. The real reason is that remand custody is only possible with the accusation of a large criminal organisation.
Why are exactly these offences listed by the Public Prosecution attributed to the criminal organisation and not more and not less? There is no criterion for this allocation. The list is random: not too short, in order to make the organisation appear sufficiently dangerous, and not too long, in case it would appear exaggerated and unbelievable.
Which persons are supposed to belong to this organisation and why? Again, no criteria are given. The 10 arrestees were chosen randomly, because a minimum of 10 suspects are needed for a criminal organisation; more than 10 would seem improbable. The fact alone that exactly 10 were picked out demonstrates the randomness behind this choice.
It is utterly shocking to see how the Public Prosecution and the Special Commission are prepared to stop at nothing in order to save face. Obviously these people are unaware of the consequences of their actions!
Countless people were assaulted in their own homes in the night by groups of armed, masked men. People, peacefully lying in their beds had spotlights shone into their faces and guns held at their heads. Of those affected by these attacks, some were people in the homes who had absolutely nothing to do with animal welfare, including a seven-year-old girl. All of the victims of this police assault have been severely traumatised.
The private sphere of countless people has been invaded, their personal spaces ransacked and their possessions pried into.
Ten people have been held for weeks, indeed months in tiny cells, robbed of their liberty. Unable to see the people and animals most dear to them, their entire lives have been put on hold. In addition the reputation of these people has been damaged beyond belief. From neighbours, work colleagues and acquaintances, to members of the animal protection organisations and the target groups of animal protection campaigns, all these people have been led to believe that there is the suspicion of criminal activity that does not exist.
This police action has also caused an immense amount of damage to property, for example, to computers and notebooks which, must now be replaced. The damage to property for the VGT probably amounts to hundreds of thousands of euros.
The psychological damage caused by the Public Prosecution and the Special Commission, either through gross negligence or intentionally, cannot be rectified. Countless people have been severely traumatised, their trust in the State destroyed. Their homes have been violated and they themselves, humiliated. In the future they will live in fear. Most will need psychotherapy.
Public Prosecution and the Special Commission have even fabricated evidence. They have invented a witness statement and fabricated a case of arson. Those responsible for these crimes must be held responsible!
For the future, I have one last question. Today’s hearing is not about guilt; it is solely about strong suspicion. When I am released, what should I do differently, according to the court, so that I will not be seen as suspicious, so that I will not to be put in remand detention?
- Do I have to change my ethos, even though the constitution guarantees that I will not be disadvantaged because of my ideology?
- Am I not permitted to carry out normal NGO work anymore, even though this work is accepted internationally and is not only necessary in a democracy, but also desired by a large majority of the Austrian population?
- Am I not permitted to organise conferences or hold meetings for (new) activists?
Or am I not permitted to write books anymore or to collect and archive the data necessary for that?
- If these questions cannot be answered clearly and satisfactorily, then how can my remand sentence be in accordance with the rule of law?
DDr. Martin Balluch
Analysis of the list of offences, which according to the Public Prosecution, are attributed to the allegedly existing criminal organisation.
At the remand review hearing on 6.6.08 the Prosecution read out a list of 33 offences. Five of these offences had to be immediately dropped because they are not covered by section 278a of the Criminal Code (criminal organisation):
1) Incident A-j was a classic run-in, which is a non-criminal act of civil disobedience, typical of NGO campaigning.
2) Incident B-a was a registered demonstration held in the presence of police: also fully legal.
3) Incident A-bb and A-ee concern the filming of the inside of a pig farm, accessed simply by walking through an open door without any damage to property, therefore also not a criminal act.
4) Incident A-y is, as detailed elsewehre, not a case of arson, but an incident involving the negligent installation and overseeing of a wood burning stove.
5) Incident A-dd concerns the puncturing of police car tyres and has no connection to animal welfare.
What remains are 22 incidents over a period of 6 years, with a total of damages amounting to certainly significantly less than 100, 000 euro. This works out at 3 incidents per year! These incidents can be categorised as follows:
7 butanoic acid stinkbombs
7 cases of broken windows
3 cases of sprayed graffiti / paint daubing
2 cases of damage to hunting platforms and to an empty, deserted pheasant enclosure.
2 animal rescues (pigs and pheasants) without any damage to property
1 threatening letter
Is it credible that within 6 years, with this level of activity the allegedly existing criminal organisation was able to exercise extensive influence over politics and the economy?
The sawing down of hunting platforms can in no way be construed as having influence over politics and the economy. Likewise the graffiti on the wall of a vivisector’s house. The 2 animal rescues are obviously attempts to directly help two individual creatures and therefore, also not attempts to exercise influence over politics and the economy. A remaining 17 incidents took place over a period of 6 years. Fifteen of these were against the owner of the clothing store Kleider Bauer, 1 against a fur shop and a threatening letter was to a company carrying out animal testing.
DDr. Balluch has no leading role in the Kleider Bauer campaign, nor is he significantly active against fur. No individual in Austria is either running a general campaign against animal testing nor one against the company which received the threatening letter, or any other particular company involved in animal testing.
There is no indication that the same group of people is responsible for these incidents. There have been no concrete reasons for suspicion of being responsible for these offences presented against any of the accused!