Austrian Animal Protection Trial – Week 10


Solidarity Gathering in Paris, France

This week saw three detectives from the special commission testifying in court. What they told the judge revealed many shocking inconsistencies which the defence attempted to address in their questioning. However, the judge prevented this by not allowing many of the defences' questions.

Arrests and house raids based on assumptions

It transpired that in October 2007 police were already planning home raids and remand prison for a number of activists. The police reports show that Dr Balluch and VGT were the main suspects. However, this was based on nothing more than the assumption that VGT possibly provided a cover for people committing offences, there was no proof or any evidence. And Dr Balluch was considered the main suspect only because he was president of VGT.

Exonerating evidence – irrelevant?

Asked about investigative results, such as DNA tests and Mobile phone and vehicle tracking, which would clear the defendants of any involvement in offences, the detectives claimed that the results were in their reports but not in the final police reports, since evidence was only considered relevant, if it provided evidence for guilt.

The judge saw fit to end this line of questioning indicating that exonerating evidence was irrelevant for the 278a law as the defendants are not charged with committing any offence, but merely be a member of a criminal organisation by supporting it through legal means. She instead busied herself with asking the detectives whether they were of the opinion that the listed offences had been carried out by a “freaked out individual” acting alone with no connection to campaigns, campaigners or animal groups or whether an organisation was behind the offences. Observers of the proceedings, those few who were not trainee police officers ordered to be there of course, were dismayed at this question as it can only reflect the judge's opinion that there can only be one or the other. This is not the reality of a normal protest movement. A good example of this are the so called “threatening” e-mails sent to fur retailers. They are standard requests to a company asking them to stop selling fur. Thousands of people send such emails. These people may or may not know others who have also sent the same or similar emails, they may or may not be involved in other campaigns, they may or may not know people who have committed offences. They may not even know this! This is the reality of modern protest movements. And this is the danger of the 278a law that conscientious individuals and organisations, such as Amnesty International, have warned of all along. This independent judge however, chooses to ignore this or is simply not aware of it.


The state prosecution service in Vienna does acknowledge this reality: In reply to the hundreds of self indictments of 278a that they had received from individuals who said that they too had taken part in campaigns etc the state prosecution service answered that the self indictment would not be admitted because their actions did not implicate them in any crimes.

This begs the question of why the courts in Wiener Neustadt, where the trial is taking place, do not also take this view. After all, the Austrian constitution demands that laws be consistently applied to all citizens equally. If they were, would the defendants be standing trial?

State of mind or criminal organisation?

Questioning of the detectives also showed up inconsistencies about their description of what the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) actually amounts to. Many references to the ALF in the files make clear that The ALF has no membership and that it is a state of mind. Other references to the ALF are used to justify the case for the existence of a criminal organisation. The same can be said about the commission's use of the word militant. On being questioned by the defence, there was no clear definition offered as to what constitutes militant behaviour. One is left wondering if a definition is deliberately absent in order to refer to legal and illegal activities interchangeably.

More on the linguistic statement

One of the defence lawyers was able to bring new evidence against the linguistic statement given by the prosecution's witness Dr Schweiger. Schweiger had told the court that defendant Dr Balluch had “almost certainly” written notes claiming responsibility for animal rights related offences, although he only studies writing as a hobby and uses methods ridiculed by experts in the field. One of Dr Schweiger's claims is that Dr Balluch uses words that he himself has constructed from other words. The defence were able to show that one of these very words appears in the police reports and when questioned the testifying officer said that this word was a perfectly normal and common word. Indeed, this word produces 21,600 results in Google! However, as part of Schweiger's controversial method involves not using a computer, he wouldn't have known this! The judge tried in vain to prevent this line of questioning by the defence.

Past, present, future

The prosecution continues to proudly claim that the defendants must be the ring leaders of the criminal organisation because animal rights related crimes have decreased – but this is simply not the case. Just this week, a communiqué was published on the internet, which calimed an arson attempt at a Kleider Bauer store at the end of March (Kleider Bauer kept it from the media) and since the beginning of the trial there have been two incidences of damage to property to Kleider Bauer stores. The defendants are rightly concerned that this charge is not only an attempt to make them responsible for all offences in the past, but for those into the indefinite future too!


Related Articles:

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

© Keith Mann