Notes from the Animal Protection Trial – Week 5


After a week's break for Easter this week saw two days in court with the further questioning of 13th defendant Harald Balluch, VGT's office manager and on the following day Bettina Bogner, the head of the special commission responsible for the police investigations

As ever, it was difficult to find any criminal connection to what the 13th defendant had to say and, again, as usual, questioning was based around typical NGO work and email content. Much court time was taken up by a dog called Otto and whether taking him for a walk provides evidence of a criminal organisation – more about Otto below!

Join the international protest

A massive protest website is now up and running, giving people the chance to send protest emails to the Austrian political party leaders. The website has been translated into over 20 languages allowing people from all over the world to read in detail about this extraordinary trial.

Is the judge really unbiased?

An important feature of this trial is that there is no jury, the verdict depends upon one person alone: The independent judge. The interest in her neutrality is therefore perfectly understandable. Just how independent is she? The consensus among court observers is certainly that she is not independent, they say that this is clear in her behaviour towards the defendants. This week alone she told the defendants to shut their mouths as they pointed out that Bettina Bogner was reading from prepared papers in answer to questions put to her, whereas this was something that the judge had ordered the defendants not to do.

In addition, the following website for the Wiener Neustadt police sports club for target practice reveals that she not only financially supports the club but is also active in the club taking part in shooting competitions:

The whole court was left speechless this week as the judge commented that the case will go to appeal anyway. When she realised that everyone interpreted her comment as meaning that she would pass a guilty verdict she quickly added that of course both sides could appeal.

Otto – the missing link?

A central aim of the prosecution is to show that the two animal rights groups VGT and BAT, represented by the defendants, cooperate with each other. Truth is though that there has been an ongoing feud between the groups for years and that any ideas of cooperation have long since been given up. However, Harald Balluch's girlfriend is a dog trainer and knows some of the BAT defendants because they all are involved with the local dog shelter. One of them has a companion dog called Otto, who has a lot of behavioural problems. This particular defendant sometimes goes away and arranges with Harald Balluch's girlfriend that she will look after Otto. This she duly does, except on a few occasions when she is pushed for time and she asks Harald to take Otto for a walk and once she asked him to stay with Otto at the other defendants house to look after him in this defendants absence. Because he was being observed by the police, taking care of Otto meant that Harald Balluch could be reported as having been in the BAT defendant's flat on one occasion and that they had made 2 telephone calls and 2 text messages to each other on the topic as well.

The judge said to Balluch disbelievingly “So, even though there is tension between VGT and BAT you still looked after Otto?” “I did it for Otto and to help my girlfriend out, not for the BAT defendant. I don't have a problem with Otto, only with BAT.” replied Balluch.


The judge wanted to know about emails where the prosecution claim that Harald Balluch told others to lie in court. Harald Balluch produced this particular email and explained to the judge that the prosecution had misquoted the email. The email shows a completely different story. Balluch was telling other people not to write things on the website, even if they are true, but if they sound unbelievable, because then VGT might be sued for libel. Only the truth that is, in addition, believable and can be proven, can be safely written on the website. So, the email was neither about lies nor about how to present yourself before a court, but about what to put on a website.
The judge also referred to an email from an open forum called Animal Rights News that was on the VGT server which contained instructions on how to carry out damage to property and arson. She said she didn't want to be responsible for showing this email and so it was not projected onto the wall for the court to see. She wanted Balluch to account for why such an email could be forwarded by the VGT server. Balluch explained that as an open forum anyone could post anything onto Animal Rights News. A VGT employee was signed up to this forum which meant that he and all others, who had signed up to the forum, receive each and every email posted on the forum in their in-boxes. This particular email, along with thousands of other emails from the same forum, could be found, unread, in a separate file called Animal Rights News in this VGT employee's email account on the VGT server. The fact that this particular email was unread, i.e., the subject line was still in bold, meant that the employee had not found the email interesting. “yes, but why would VGT want to forward such an email?” asked the judge once again. Obviously she was having difficulty understanding this standard form of internet communication. Balluch patiently went through it once again, stressing to make clear that VGT had not forwarded the email. In fact, he had nothing to do with the email list, but he was only responsible for the email server, which in this case was as if he was only responsible for the post office that put the mail in a letter box. You cannot hold neither the post office nor the receiver of an unsolicited mail by an unknown person responsible for ist content.

VGT mobile pool

The judge wanted to know why VGT had decided to buy 10 pay-as-you-go mobile phones and referred to telephone conversations and emails between VGT defendants where the purchase was discussed. Harald Balluch showed in the minutes of a VGT committee meeting how the committee had wanted to buy walkie-talkies for hunt protests but because activists are often spread out over larger distances during such protests the walkie-talkies were unable to reach far enough and so it was decided to buy mobiles instead.

VGT website in English

Why was there an English translation of the VGT website, was the judge's next question. Harald Balluch explained that it was completely normal for organisations to have an English version of their website online. “Can anyone read this?” asked the judge, insinuating that it had something to do with contact to English extremists. “Yes” replied Balluch “You just go onto the website and click on the English flag”.

Fur Research

Asked by the judge if he had undertaken research to find out whether the clothing store Peek and Cloppenberg were selling animal fur Balluch answered no. He went on to say that he was only in their store once and had photographed the fur items on sale and bought two jackets with a fur trim to have them genetically analysed in order to establish which animals had been used. The reason for this was because the store had wanted to bring VGT to court because PETA Germany had claimed that Peek and Cloppenberg Germany were selling fur from dogs and VGT had reported on this on their website. It turned out that the fur was from rabbits. Balluch added that this had been done at the request of the VGT committee.

Head of the investigations, Bettina Bogner

Through the evidence she gave, it transpired that the special commission had spies in VGT and BAT, but not for long. She said that they were taken out of the groups because of poor results. She claimed that the poor results are reflective of the conspirative structure of the groups. She went on to say that the fact that so many of the cases of damage to property had not been solved was because the absence of any forensic evidence from the crime scenes was a sign that the culprits really knew what they were doing. It also came to light that the police had a paid informer in the animal rights scene, but this line of investigation too was terminated because the information was of no use.


Related Articles:


From Dusk 'til Dawn
An Insider's View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement

© Keith Mann