Austrian Trial Reaches Critical Stage


Animal Protection Trial: Sixty-three Days in Court - Undercover Agent testifies - Journalists call for the Trial to be stopped

"Danielle Durand" - 16 months in the middle of the Austrian Animal Rights Movement

Undercover agent proves to be the best exonerating witness the defense could wish for

The last week of the trial for this year was dominated by the undercover agent 'Danielle Durant's' hearing. After police and prosecution denied the fact that an undercover probe had in fact been operating in the midst of VGT for nearly sixteen months, they now have to watch as she proves to be the best exonerating witness the defense could wish for.

After postponing the hearing on Monday to Wednesday, the judge took the decision to question 'Danielle Durant' in a neighbouring room and have the hearing displayed via a video link in the court room on Thursday. She argued that the 'health of the witness was otherwise in danger' and she was concerned that due to all the media interest, the witness may fall victim to stalking.

Usually witnesses are permitted to testify outside of the court room only when they have been the victim of, for example, sexual abuse in order to avoid the trauma of being in the presence of the abuser.

Given that everyone could see the witness on fotos displayed on the internet, and that she was an officer trained to be an undercover investigator it was obvious that the real reason for keeping her out of the court room was to avoid the defense being able to ask questions.

On the screen in the court room the witness could be seen in what the media called 'a ridiculous black wig'. The lawyers protested the questioning of the witness out of the courtroom, fearing that, when it was their turn to ask questions, it would be severely hammpered by this procedure. In protest, several of the accused left the court room, some claiming that the person in the room with the judge was not even the same person that they knew to be the undercover agent. Members of the viewing public supported this protest by calling out and when the judge realised from the next room what was happening she had police remove the members of the public by force and called off the proceedings for the day.

Even conservative journalists wrote that afternoon that the trial is a scandal and must be stopped and the reporter for the main evening news, who was interviewed live from the news studio in front of the court building said that from what he had seen the judge was incapable of running the trial correctly.

On Thursday, reporters and family and friends of the accused were outraged to find that the court room was packed out with police cadets and a class visit from a local business college. At least 20 visitors to the court room were sent home, because there was no place left, and a number of journalists did not get in either.

After the judge turned down several complaints by the defense that she was not ensuring a fair trial by not allowing the public in and by not hearing the witness in the court room, the questioning started in a neighbouring room and continued for two hours.

In that time the undercover agent detailed how she had been close to several of the accused and intensely involved in animal rights campaigns at all levels and at no time had there been any talk or planning of anything illegal.

She told the judge how she had also travelled to an international animal rights gathering in Holland and that all the people there had been open and friendly and exchanged their experiences of legal campaigning from their respective countries with each other.

When asked what kind of things were talked about in VGT meetings she had attended the witness told the judge that they were never about anything criminal, but rather about discussing campaign strategies and internal criticism on too agressive demo chants using the words "murder" and "war". She went on to say that she had been on countless demos and protests and had never had anything to report other than that people included her in everything and were always friendly. Other activities that she had participated in had been banner painting and putting supporters letters in envelopes.

Following the questioning all media reporting on the proceedings called for the trial to be stopped and on Friday, as a result of massive media interest, the Ministry for Justice demanded a report from the crown prosecution detailing proceedings to date and how the prosecution intends to continue.

The court is now in recess until late January 2011 when the questioning of the undercover agent 'Danielle Durant' is scheduled to continue.


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© Keith Mann