The end of March marked the end of the fourth week of the Austrian animal activist trial that has sent chilling reminders that free speech activities are not always “free”. Two years ago, the homes and offices of ten leading Austrian animal advocates were raided and these individuals were kept in solitary confinement for several months. This has been shown to be part of a two year investigation which has resulted in twenty-six homes and seven NGO office searches, informants, wiretaps, e-mail surveillance and personal and vehicle tracking. All of the money, time and resources dedicated to this harassment have yielded no direct evidence of any criminal activity by those targeted.
The primary “evidence” against several of these defendants is that they organized and took part in demonstrations, distributed leaflets, expressed opinions in internet debates and engaged in other fully legal NGO campaign work. Section 278a of the Austrian Criminal Code is being used to argue that these activities, although legal, have influenced other “unknown persons” to commit illegal offences. Aboveground activists, doing legal work, are being made responsible for the actions of people totally unknown to them. The entire first part of the trial has been focused on dragging these activists through the judicial ringer for nothing more than expressing opinions in emails and internet forums.
Activists from all over the world have been demonstrating, writing letters and making phone calls to the Austrian government to hold them accountable for repressing free speech and activism. Dr. Martin Balluch wrote in a open letter about the trial, “It is quite exhausting, but I must admit that the judge is giving us – and especially me – time and space to express our opinions and to ask questions. I had been warned in advance that it might not be so, but maybe the attention of the public has made the judge more careful.” This publicity has also helped with getting the message out about the plight of animals, as Dr. Balluch said, “any press conference and any press release of us is picked up by the media very well”.
Dr Bulluch commented about the atmosphere in court, “Nobody in their right mind can believe what is going on and even the judge said that she never expected to have to run a case like this. Actually, these days she is exchanging jokes with us and the atmosphere in court is pretty relaxed.” Although, Dr. Balluch warned that when court resumes on April 7th, it might be a different story as the prosecution is bringing in the police.
We will continue to send updates and alerts with information on how you can support free speech and activism. Ours is a global movement, all are affected when such a blatant disregard for free-speech manifests. We should do everything we can to support these activists!
FARM will be coordinating demonstrations in DC at the Austrian embassy soon. Stay Tuned for Alerts!
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