Message to the International Animal Rights Movement from Martin Balluch, imprisoned without charge for 100 days for legitimate animal rights campaigning.
Mid-May, the largest police operation ever in Austria against a social justice movement saw dawn raids in 23 houses and offices of animal rights folk across the country. Masked officers pulled more than 30 people at gun point out of their beds and ransacked their places. Seven animal rights groups had all their stuff removed – till today.
And equally till today, 10 activists are still being held on remand in prison cells without charge and without evidence.
Slowly during these last 3 months, ever more information has been revealed about this police operation. We now know that 17 people had their phones tapped and their emails read over one and a half years, 3 houses had their entrances filmed, 2 cars had tracking devices put on them and at least 7 homes and offices were bugged. In addition, 20 people had their bank accounts monitored and 17 people were watched and followed for months. Further, police agents infiltrated animal rights groups, among them VGT.
All this massive operation at taxpayers’ expense of way beyond 1 million Euros, i.e. much more than the damage by the crimes they were supposedly out to solve, lead NOWHERE. No evidence of any criminal offence.
But we are still in prison. Instead of being suspected of some sort of concrete criminal offence, we supposedly form a big criminal organisation. For that, the prosecution says, there does not need to be any evidence for a criminal offence. The suspects do not even need to know each other. It is supposedly sufficient to keep running your animal rights campaign while at the same time accepting that other people unknown might act criminally for the same or a similar goal. Would you believe that you could be locked up for that?
I have just been interrogated for 20 hours by police. They have put all their “evidence“ before me to comment on. This is what they claim:
* I encrypt emails
* VGT is meeting in private places without public access
* VGT is not openly planning actions on the phone
* Taken out of context, some 5 emails of those 5000 I wrote in the last 11 (!) years sound radical
* I have international contacts
* I organise many conferences and meetings for recruiting new activists to the cause
* I write books and run radio and TV shows on animal rights, which use occasionally radical brochures and which occasionally mention the ALF
That is it. That is the “evidence“ against me. There is nothing more to it. According to state prosecution and remand judges, this justifies locking me up for god knows how many months on remand, and possibly putting me on trial. For the prosecution and police, most activists in Austria abroad are part of a giant criminal organisation, which is responsible of all ALF actions ever made anywhere. Their interpretation of the term “organisation“ allows for that. It means “being of the same mind-set“. Anybody, who is animal rights minded, and who remains so, after someone somewhere with the same ideology committed an offence, belongs to this organisation.
It is so ludicrous that I would laugh my head off, had somebody told me before. Now, in prison, I do not laugh anymore. It has become serious.
What is going on here? Well, I have a good guess. It is clear, I believe, that those in power, who formed the special police unit and started it all, had only one thing on their agenda: smash the animal rights movement, smash the VGT, and especially shut this bloke Balluch up.
There is a lot of evidence that this is exactly what they were out for. For example, we have a report of a meeting of the police special unit, solely debating how they could damage and destroy VGT. They debated a number of ways how to attack and arranged a next meeting with the same topic 5 days later. And that meeting took place 1 month into my incarceration. That proves that it is not criminal offences they want so solve. They are after blood. They want to destroy VGT and its successful networks and infrastructure. They just use the fact that there were criminal offences committed, albeit on a very low level, as an excuse to construct this “criminal organisation“ to justify large scale police operations and many months if not years in remand.
As time goes on, this unbelievable nightmare is becoming more and more a gigantic scandal of massive proportions! What an outrageous abuse of power! What a totalitarian attack on democracy and human rights! I hope you agree that we cannot let them get away with this. If such police state behaviour becomes the norm, who will dare to stand up and criticize the system? Who will continue animal rights campaigns? After all, NOTHING I have done that landed me in prison was out of the ordinary or in any way strange for animal rights activities. If I can be locked up for it, anybody can. To campaign for animal rights in any form means being with one foot in prison already.
I can only reiterate: Folks, we are at a historic moment in time. Animal rights has become an issue that seriously challenges the system. The powerful have decided to smash it with brute force. We have to stand together firm now and fight this decisive battle. We cannot let them get away with that. We must win this one. No further repression. No silencing of legitimate activism anymore. If we do not manage to stop this operation and hold those responsible accountable, we won’t be able to be active for animal rights any longer. No further retreat. This is about all or nothing.
I count on you lot!
Martin Balluch, political prisoner, JA-Josefstadt Vienna