Animal users, criminals or deputies?

After months of controversial pre-trial detention, a group of austrian animal rights activists have now been released

On the order of the chief public prosecutor’s office, the pre-trial detention against some austrian animal users was lifted after 110 days. They had been arrested on the basis of the so-called anti-mafia paragraph 278a of the austrian penal code, which was sharply criticized by a number of politicians, ngos, lawyers and some media outlets. Because the smell of the police and judiciary willkur sticks to the thing. Two persons concerned could make people sit up and take notice again after the upcoming national council elections in a different capacity and perhaps keep up a discussion about the actual meaning of the paragraph and its correct application – because the grunen put them up as independent candidates.

At the end of may, i.E. About three months ago, ten austrian animal users were remanded in custody. A night and fog action, as those concerned reported. Clubs and apartments were ransacked, computers confiscated. The accusation: suspicion of the formation of a criminal organization after the 278a stgb. What the animal rights activists were actually accused of, on the other hand, remained largely unclear.

It was precisely this lack of transparency and the smell of governmental arbitrariness that sparked off a public and political debate. Because, as the lawyers for the detainees pointed out, there were initially no clear indications at all of concrete facts of the crime. Sometime in 2006 window panes of a clothing store were smashed and someone said "fur is murder". And there were some butterscotch attacks. But who was responsible for it, is not clear until now.

A reference to alf has been made by the authorities. Alf means animal liberation front, founded in the mid-1970s by animal rights activist ronnie lee. The goal: to prevent animal testing and the killing of animals. There is also a german website. The "tierbefreier" publish regularly letters of confession to various actions. Sometimes a high stand is announced, sometimes minks are freed "freed", sometimes animal torturers are reported to the police. Mostly, however, is reported about property damage, which is certainly not in accordance with the law – neither in germany nor in austria.

Illegal "actions" are now one thing, the formation of a criminal – yes "mafia-like" – organization is another – according to politicians, journalists and many lawyers about the case in austria. The accused belong to most different animal protection organizations, which are among themselves quarreled, partly even hostile. Also that does not fit so really into the picture of a "mafia-like" structure. And 110 days of pre-trial detention is a very long time, which inevitably raises the question of susceptibility.

One of the most prominent detainees, martin balluch, viennese double doctor in physics and philosophy, even went on hunger strike while in custody. The activist of the organization "association against animal factories" once hung up a promising academic career and dedicated his life to the protection of animals. The association fights against factory farming, battery cages, fur industry, etc. "The pre-trial detention is apparently used to crush people," said his girlfriend elisabeth sablik a few days ago to the media. When he was taken away, balluch appeared to be stricken – emaciated and pale. He could not put all this "into words", said the activist briefly and succinctly after his release.

For the green mp peter pilz, the case was forced by the conservative people’s party (ovp) and is an act against critical non-governmental organizations (ngos). Opposite the daily newspaper "osterreich" pilz said:

"It is an ovp action against all environmental activists. There is no evidence against balluch, however, the then minister of the interior gunther platter had all actions reported to him from the very first day. With exactly the same arguments the leadership of greenpeace, attac or global 2000 could be arrested."

This is exactly how many ngos in austria see it. The broad solidarity from these circles for the animal users is also therefore understandable. The accusation of "precautionary locking away" was often heard during the last months. In early june, the human rights organization amnesty international raised a number of concerns about the arrest of the animal users in a multi-page statement to prosecutors.

The main point of criticism is that the criminal law paragraph on organized crime is blamed on animal users, said ai secretary general heinz patzelt. These provisions had been adopted at that time after the attack of 11. The new system was introduced in september 2001 as part of the fight against terrorism. Austria had a "very far-reaching rubber clauses" were formulated – and these were always in danger of being "misused", according to patzelt. He therefore called for "transparency as a matter of urgency".

Alexander van der bellen, federal spokesman for the grunen, also stressed that the anti-mafia paragraph was created against human trafficking, drug trafficking and arms trafficking, i.E. Organized crime, and should therefore not be used against the work of ngos. "This spook must come to an end, by amending the anti-mafia paragraph", demanded van der bellen on the occasion of the release of the activists.

Various commentators in the austrian media also have a problem with the interpretation of the law in this case. Michael moseneder very aptly formulated his discomfort in the austrian standard of 3 september 2008. September 2008 his uneasiness. Quote:

"Police and judiciary thus exemplary in their commitment to the rule of law? Not really. A special commission has been working on the case for a year. She must have suspicions, otherwise the house searches were hardly authorized by the judiciary – and then 110 days are needed to secure further evidence? The danger of collusion was one of the main reasons for the long imprisonment. With respect: either one should have known beforehand what one was looking for – or one should have worked faster. But to imprison people for more than three months and then release them again with a half-hearted argumentation, smells suspiciously of bad intention."

After all – the animal users are for the time being again on free fub. A longer pre-trial detention would not be acceptable, the public prosecutor’s office explained, but stressed that there was still a "danger of committing a crime". How the prosecution will proceed and whether charges will be filed is still unclear.

Martin balluch and a further animal protectionist could have then however already a delegate status. For the grunen invited two activists to stand as independent candidates on their lists for the upcoming national council election. A "symbolic candidacy", as one grun mandatary said. Martin balluch was pleased according to the rumor uber the invitation.