was what the whole NGO scene prayed would never happen: The first day of
the trial against 13 animal rights campaigners on suspicion of belonging
to a criminal organisation.
no evidence linking the five VGT employees to any criminal offence and despite
public outcry and demands for the Minister of Justice to stop this case
coming to court, the trial opened at 9.30 am on 2nd March.
“evidence” against the five VGT employees is organising and
taking part in demonstrations, distributing leaflets and other fully legal
NGO campaign work.
only opinions expressed in internet debates in the last 2 decades are the
primary evidence. Section 278a of the Austrian Criminal Code is being used
to argue that these activities, although legal, have influenced other unknown
persons to commit offences and therefore those doing legal work are to be
made responsible for the actions of people totally unknown to them.
outside the court – Prosecutor ridiculed
began outside the courts well before the case was opened. Around 100 people
gathered with balloons, music, vegan food, banners and animal rights literature.
Media were present from all major national TV and radio stations.
judge presiding over the case, Sonja Arleth, opened the trial at 9.30 a.m.
establishing the defendants details and requesting that the court not be
used to express political statements. The state prosecutor Wolfgang Handler
then proceeded to give an 80 minute account of the charges during which
chants of “Liar, liar” could plainly be heard inside the court
room from the protesters outside. In addition balloons with “smash
section 278a” written on them were floated up outside the court room
prosecutor recited a list of offences carried out with an animal rights
motive dating back over the last 40 years and mostly occurring in the UK.
This culminated with a description of the SHAC campaign as having a deliberate
double strategy of legal and illegal actions. He went on to say that the
defendants have had contact with perpetrators from the UK and that in Austria
the criminal organisation was born out of the animal rights movement in
the late 80s and was made up of at least 10 persons with the aim of fighting
for animal rights using illegal direct action.
detailed how the criminal organisation is supposedly structured with the
VGT office as its headquarters with a hierarchical command system using
encrypted emails and anonymous mobile phones to orchestrate international
campaigns such as the fur campaign against C&A, P&C, Escada and
later in Austria against Kleider Bauer. Liberations of pigs and chickens
were carried out as part of egg and meat campaigns. Put simply, every illegal
action carried out with an animal rights motive is attributed to the criminal
defendants are charged with 278a but seven are in addition charged with
emails and making telephone calls to retailers calling for them to stop
o Damaging a sign for a reptile show
o Running away from police at an unregistered demonstration
o Smashing a window at a Nazi meeting
o Researching the number plate of an employee
o Letting off one stink bomb
o Liberating mink
o Liberating pigs
o Researching the address of a political opponent
defendants' lawyers make their statements
a lunch break the defendants' lawyers made their statements. Most of them
mocked the state prosecutor for presenting such a weak case and they corrected
many of the points he had made such as his listing of offences which have
long since been dropped from the charge sheet because they are no longer
considered by police to be offences, such as a case of arson which was actually
the fault of a hunter incorrectly installing an oven. Another example being
the over exaggerated value put on damaged property.
lawyers agreed that the extensive surveillance of the defendants is ideal
testament to and proof of their innocence. They made the point that the
prosecution is unable to clarify when a person is to be deemed a member
of the criminal organisation, does holding an opinion leave one open to
prosecution? The one-sided investigation by the prosecution was also criticised
by the lawyers, one claimed that 30 motions to take evidence had been ignored
by the prosecution, the arrests and remand custody contravened human rights
laws and the defendants had been denied access to prosecution files. In
addition, the negative results of surveillance operations have been omitted
from the final reports, in other words, the prosecution has ignored exonerating
of the lawyers made the case that encrypting electronic data is completely
legitimate, he also pointed to the fact that numerous commentators, including
the head of the police special commission himself, have stated that ALF
style actions are not carried out in a systematic organised way and as such
can't be attributed to an “organisation”. A further point was
that organised crime's single objective is financial gain and that in the
case of the defendants this is obviously not the intention, and further
still, the prosecution has failed to present any evidence that can be compared
to a Mafia like structure.
prosecution's own argument that the supposed criminal organisation uses
a double strategy of organised crime on one hand and legitimate campaigns
on the other was used by the defence lawyers against the prosecution. They
argued that it is a double strategy of the prosecution to make a historical
list of illegal animal rights activities and attempt to hang them all on
13 individuals by making indirect links between their legitimate work and
first day of the trial was featured in news headlines on TV and in the papers.
The reports were extensive and openly questioned the validity of the use
Second day in court – Questioning of Dr Martin Balluch
the second and third day in court the first defendant Dr Martin Balluch
was questioned. Outside protesters gathered once more, one protester had
dressed himself up as the prosecutor Wolfgang Handler complete with a mask
with a long “liar” nose and a plastic gun, as he is a hunter.
A sign on his back read “We have to get animal welfare off the streets”.
Again, press swarmed the court and were asked to leave as the judge opened
fires are not arson
Balluch first spoke about the supposed criminal organisation. The prosecution
had listed a series of offences in order to create a false impression that
such offences are a serious problem in Austria due to their serious nature
and high occurrence. As a matter of fact 99% of the 1500 “actions”
in the anti-fur campaign against P&C listed by the prosecution were
completely legal demonstrations and from the offences practically all were
carried out in Germany or Holland. Similarly with the cases of arson where
almost all were either not arson, but rather fires caused by accident, or
cases of fires where an animal rights motive was attributed only years later,
after the formation of the special commission. Even though these cases were
not classified as arson originally, they now appear as such in the prosecution
files. In the 25 years that the criminal organisation is claimed to have
existed there have been 4 cases of arson; one in 1996, two in May 2000 and
one in 2002. In other words, there has been no cases of arson by the “criminal
organisation” in the last eight years.
rights motivated crime drops
quoted from official documents that practically no animal rights motivated
crimes were committed in 2005. And in 2007, the year that the special commission
was formed, such offences were 50% less than in the previous year, 2006.
Where there was a significant increase at that time however, was in legal
activities. It can be concluded that the offences were carried out by lone
operators rather than centrally planned in a Mafia like structure.
offences against Kleider Bauer detailed by the prosecution are untypical
in two aspects: Firstly there has never been so many offences occurring
during a particular campaign and secondly, these offences all happened during
12 months of a 3 ½ year campaign. This also suggests the work of
lone operators. In contrast to the alleged crimes of this supposed criminal
organisation there have been 35 times more cases of reported animal cruelty
crimes than crimes committed against animal abuse. Balluch went on to detail
multiple brutal criminal attacks on animal rights protesters carried out
by hunters, farmers, circus workers or by paid thugs. These crimes are never
on the alleged double strategy Balluch noted that there was no evidence
of a double strategy being the case and that, on the contrary, many successful
campaigns had been carried out without incidence of any criminal offences.
Balluch further undermined the concept of a double strategy quoting Article
7 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that what constitutes
an illegal act must be so clearly stated in the law books that citizens
of a country are able to find out what is a criminal offence and what is
not. But one can read section 278a of the Austrian Criminal Code as often
as one wants, and it would never become clear that organising an animal
rights conference for example, as stated in the charge sheets, is to be
considered a crime. If this is the case, anyone can be brought to court.
After a recent publication of an article about himself and the trial, Balluch
received a death threat. “Surely this is a case of the journalist
in question using a double strategy?” argued Balluch.
colleagues and sworn enemies
allegation from the prosecution is that the 13 accused work together closely
to carry out the aims of the criminal organisation. Dr Balluch stated that
the 5 VGT employees unsurprisingly do have regular contact to each other
and that there is also contact between the also charged Four Paws employee
who in turn has had no involvement in the Kleider Bauer campaign. The also
charged director of the Austrian Vegan Society has only occasional involvement
in VGT work and the rest of those charged are involved with different groups
where there is no contact between many of the 13 because the groups have
a long history of distancing themselves from each other.
the morning the judge appeared irritated and constantly interrupted Balluch.
On many occasions Balluch's lawyer stepped in to remind the judge that Balluch
had the right to answer in full.
and animal liberation
the judge turned her attention to the content of emails and contact to persons
known to have committed animal rights related offences. Asked what he thought
about the liberating of a dolphin by an English activist, Balluch commented
that it was illegal but that it was also great that it happened. There was
loud applause at this from the public. Commenting on the apparent radical
content of emails projected on the court room wall by the judge, Balluch
said that he writes around 5000 emails a year and many of these mails were
written a long time ago and he simply can't remember them. In addition,
all of the emails are taken out of context. Put back in their context, as
Balluch proceeded to do with a number of examples, the content could be
understood as the opposite to radical. Apart from this, many email discussions
can be hypothetical and people often tend to exaggerate opinions in order
to illustrate a point.
this point in the proceedings the judge showed obvious disinterest in the
defendant's answers and was clearly not listening to him. This was proven
to be the case when Balluch ended a statement with the utterance “Be
Bo Bing, the judge ain't listening”. There was silence in the court
until the judge looked up and asked Balluch why he didn't continue. At this
there was loud laughter throughout the court.
the lunch break Balluch's questioning was resumed. The judge seemed more
relaxed and less hectic. She wanted to know about the filming Balluch had
done of fur farms in Scandinavia. The prosecution states that Balluch was
collecting data to support the criminal organisation. Balluch explained
the necessity of documenting the condition on fur farms. He showed the judge
a film from a fur farm. She appeared distressed at what she saw and asked
in detail how the animals are treated.
judge went on to ask about the prosecution's accusation that Balluch allowed
VGT equipment to be used by the criminal organisation. Balluch explained
that VGT equipment such as mobile phones and two-way radios are used for
actions involving civil disobedience and investigations and nothing more.
reports immediately appeared with headlines such as “animal liberation
– illegal but super!” and “Be Bo Bing – the judge
day in court
the following day Dr Balluch's questioning continued. The prosecutor Handler
informed the court that during the night of 2nd March, the first day of
the trial, 3 windows had been smashed of a Kleider Bauer shop in Vienna.
Asked by the judge what he thought about the smashed windows, Balluch commented
that it proves his innocence as, until today, the prosecution had claimed
that the absence of any such crimes since the investigations became known
had underlined the guilt of the accused.