Political prosecution of activists

The Story so far …

What we would like to share with you at ShameOnAustria is the Austrian animal rights trial story so far and keep you up to date with developments concerning the retrial.

Watch the short film for a summary of what happened so far. Listen to the interviews with the activists themselves talking about their ordeal. Take the moral decency test and read up about the self-indictment campaign where nearly 3,000 people have already taken part!

It seems like such a long time ago that 10 of our campaigners were dragged away at gun point to spend a frightening and miserable 3 months in pre-trial detention. That moment was like entering a dark tunnel or being on a ghost train where at every curve the state horrified us again and again with just how far they were prepared to go with their attempt to stamp out the Austrian animal rights movement. What kept the wind in our sails was realising that our situation was making other people angry, people we didn't even know, who lived all over the globe : )

Who would have thought that by using legislation intended to fight organised crime, an anti-mafia law, as the charge would be what would make it possible to attack us in this way! Who ever came up with the idea must have felt very pleased with themselves – but there is an obvious flaw in comparing the Mafia with our movement: one is intent on personal gain and the other on reducing suffering. It was this, coupled with a serious lack of evidence, that eventually led to a full aquittal, a non-guilty verdict in all counts after the longest trial in Austria's second republic!

And since then? Well, it's a mixed bag. The worst is that we expected an appeal against the aquittal to come and come it did. It has been upheld by the courts, which means that some of the original defendants will have to go back on trial. And what, you may well ask, will they go on trial for, if there was no evidence against them? It's a good question and the answer is, by saying that informing a company of a legal awareness-raising campaign to start against them if they are unwilling to stop selling fur counts as coercion. The interesting thing is that in Austria, coercion only counts as coercion if it is seen by people generally as 'violating moral principles' (Sittenwidrigkeit). A recent empirical survey asking Austrians whether this method of campaigning was a 'violation of moral principles' revealed a resounding 'No, it's ok for campaigners to inform a company of a campaign against them and their business practices. Given that the public feel like this, a charge of coercion seems hard to maintain.

In response to the news of a retrial, thousands of people sent a letter of self-indictment to the prosecutor's office stating that they too had contacted the clothing store Kleider Bauer informing them of a campaign. To date there has been no reply from the prosecutor suggesting they are not quit sure how to respond perhaps?

Other developments since the end of the first trial have been that the judge who passed the not-guilty verdict has been demoted while the chief prosecutor has been promoted. The anti-mafia law has been changed to protect against its further misuse. General support for animal rights campaigners is high – everyone will tell you what a scandal the trial was. Veganism is booming in Austria, maybe a coincidence, it's hard to tell.

Short Film


These interviews were made with 7 of the activists during the trial, some of whom are now facing retrial. At the time they were recorded the verdict of the first trial was still undecided.

All the interviews are with English subtitles.

Call to Self-Indictment – Show your Solidarity!

Are you shocked about the criminalization of highlighting bad business practice? Show your support by signing a self-indictment! (Link no longer available.)

Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-one people have already signed.

Do your opinions violate moral principles?

The court's decision to uphold the appeal which will relaunch the infamous Austrian animal rights trail is based on the charge of coercion.

As the court sees it, people have no legal right to demand more than minimum standards of animal protection set by law. Such demands are viewed by the court as a violation of moral principles. That makes the announcement of an awareness-raising campaign count as coercion due to the fact that profits could be affected by it.

Take the 'Moral Decency Test' yourself to find out whether your views would be seen as a 'violation of moral principles' by the court: (Link no longer available.)

Acid Attack on Peaceful Protesters

It was a media stunt to draw attention to the fact that what is a violation of moral principles is the fur trade itself, not campaigning against it!

In the film you can see the protesters infront of the store that continues to sell fur, Kleider Bauer, baring their butts for the press when a guy pulls up in an old Mercedes without the back numberplate, jumps out leaving the engine running and sprays the protesters with acid from a water pistol! Three brave protesters tackle him to the ground until the police arrive. Ten people were injured, three of whom got acid in their faces. Luckily all the burns have healed.

Just a crazy guy? Unlikely, the attack must have taken some planning and before police took him away the guy let slip to one of the protesters in the presence of a police officer that he had been paid to do it.

Retrial set for April 2014

It has just been announced that the retrial will begin in early April of this year. In a separate trial due to start on 20 March 20014, one of the original defendants is suing the Austrian state for € 650,000 compensation for costs and damages incurred during the animal protection trial.

Law Professor Petra Velten's strong Criticism of Court Decision to proceed with Retrial

The retrial of five of the original defendants from the first trial is based on the charge of criminal coercion. As with the attempt to use an anti-Mafia law in the first trial, this charge is another example of laws, intended to tackle illegal personal financial gain, being inappropriately used against people who are zero interested in personal financial gain.

University law professor and head of department for criminal law at the Johannes Kepler University Linz, Dr Petra Velten, recently responded with a report strongly criticising the court's decision. The following is a short summary of her main points.

Professor Velten's expert report on the court's decision to proceed with the trial makes the point that when trying someone for criminal coercion their intention or long-term aim must be taken into account. In this case activists' intention or long-term aim is the principle of animal protection, a principle happily now firmly anchored in the Austrian constitution. The court that has allowed the case however, sees the activist's campaign as solely having the aim of preventing the company from selling fur rather than the larger goal of achieving protection for animals. Velten refers to this as an 'interpretation trick' on the part of the court. Velten demonstrates her point with the example of someone stranded overnight in the mountains breaking in to a mountain cabin in order to survive the night. For assessing the lawfulness of this action a verdict must consider the person's intention, which, in this example, is clearly one of survival. It would be wrong to assess the lawfulness of this situation based only on the information that the person broke into the cabin.

The court's decision to uphold the retrial also includes the argument that acts of coercion are only to be considered acceptable if a person is driven to these measures in order to protect or achieve something that he or she has a legal right to. As campaigners have no legal right to prohibiting the sale of fur, their actions demanding this are therefore illegal. Taken seriously, this would lead to a wide range of social interactions being illegal, from employees going on strike as part of their demand for higher wages, or voters petitioning an electoral candidate to exclude anti-foreigner parts of their manifesto to a dentist refusing to treat his or her patient unless they clean their teeth regularly. In none of these cases do the the demanding parties have any legal right to what they are demanding.

Velten states that a correct interpretation of the law concerning coercion is one based on the 'principle of related actions' which means that, given that it is legal to hold demonstrations, the act of announcing a demonstration cannot be interpreted as being illegal.

The prosecution claims that the company Kleider Bauer has suffered financial loss through the anti-fur campaign. It is interesting to consider who is to be seen as responsible for this alleged financial loss. Is it the activists seeking to influence the customers or is it the customers who actually boycott the store? And in any case, lost opportunities to sell fur cannot be considered financial loss as the company was at no time in possession of the earnings from those potential sales.

Velten's report ends with the observation that in order to find someone guilty of coercion it must be established that they have offended public moral decency (Sittenwidrigkeit). This vague description contravenes Article 2 of the constitution which states that laws must be written in such a way that members of the public are able to clearly interpret what is and is not allowed.

Three Thousand Self Indictments Dropped

The Austrian Senior Public Prosecutor's Office has responded to 3000 cases of self indictment saying that it finds them to be lacking in 'seriousness' regarding the announcement of a campaign against sports store EYBL and therefore, no proceedings will be started.

Their response is despite the fact that the campaign is already in full swing!

In an historic act of solidarity last year, over 3000 people sent a voluntary disclosure or self indictment to the Austrian prosecutor's office stating they they too were just as 'guilty' as the five individuals due to be retried in the second animal protection trial at the beginning of April this year. The 3000 people had put together an email to the company EYBL in which they announced the commencement of a campaign should the company fail to make a statement saying they would stop selling fur. This campaign would run exactly along the lines of the campaign against the company Kleider Bauer. Now, the senior prosecutor's office has closed each of the 3000 files without carrying out any investigations. According to them, the company's management had no cause for concern because the email had been worded in such a way as to lead them to believe that the self indictments were intended as a protest against the judiciary and not with the intention to really start a campaign against EYBL.

One of the 3000, VGT's Martin Balluch, had the following to say:

The senior prosecutor's office doubts the seriousness of our self indictments, but the fact is that the campaign is already in full swing! There have been demonstrations since December 2013 and many in-store actions took place over the Christmas period in EYBL branches throughout Austria. In addition to this, thousands of people are being informed about EYBL's questionable business practices via posters, leaflets and electronic media. All this leads to people deciding not to shop at EYBL. These circumstances are exactly the same as those in the charge of serious coercion in the upcoming retrial.

This action is not at all directed at the judiciary, rather at the threat to democracy. According to the expert report from Professor Petra Velten, using a hard but legal campaign to force a company into not selling fur by informing and influencing customers can be seen as a 'dangerous threat' (defined in the law as not being automatically criminal)  but not as criminal coercion. In the second wave of self indictments we will draw the senior prosecutor's office's attention to their mistaken interpretation of our intention. This time we will make our demand that EYBL pull out of the fur trade clear in exactly the same way as the emails cited in the retrial do. Then we will see in what other ways the circumstances can be construed differently. Either that, or thousands of people will end up in court!

New Wave of Self Indictments – Add your Voice!

In the run up to the retrial of 5 people from the first animal protection trial on charges of criminal coercion, the prosecution office dropped 3000 cases of self indictments from individuals pointing out that they too, had carried out the same actions as the 5 due to stand trial. The prosecution claimed that the self indictments were not meant seriously. Now, there is a new wave of self indictments.

This week, individuals have started sending letters to fur selling clothing company Sports Eybl with exactly the same wording as the emails originally sent to notify another company of a campaign against them should they decide not to opt out of the fur trade. In addition they are sending a letter to the state prosecutor drawing attention to the fact that the circumstances are the same and asking for the legality of their actions to be assessed.

One of the first people to send off their self indictment had the following to say:

I'm writing to Eybl to inform them about a campaign against them unless they stop selling fur because there's no place for fur in a country which has animal protection in its constitution. There is no such thing as humane fur. These kind of campaigns are run by NGOs all over the world. How should consumers exercise their right to choose what to buy unless they have access to information about products? Companies are not going to show customers how animals are kept and killed for their fur so it's up to pressure groups to use their civil rights to run awareness raising campaigns. Its only fair to contact companies first to give them the option to change their fur policy up front.

I'm informing the prosecutor's office about my letter because this is no more or less than the people facing trial have done. How can it be illegal to notify a company that you are going to do something that is perfectly legal? Either they put all of us on trial or none of us.

The letter to sports Eybl and the self indictment letter to the prosecution can be found in English at:

Trial Dates Announced

The dates have been set for the retrial of 5 from 13 of the original activists tried and found not guilty of being members of a criminal organisation.

May 13, 2014
Juergen Faulmann, charged with animal cruelty for allegedly liberating pigs into a meadow.
May 19, 2014
Three activists from the animal rights group BAT, charged with coercion.
May 27 and 28, 2014
Felix Hnat, charged with coercion for announcing a legal anti-fur campaign, disrupting a fur fashion show and criminal damage for breaking a toilet window at an anti-nazi demo.

More to follow.

Run up to the first retrial

Supporters of those facing the retrials due to start next week (13.05) have been busy this week reminding people just what a scandal these proceedings are.

In a bloody protest against the retrials, activists reconstructed instances were wounds and injuries have been inflicted on activists participating in peaceful protests against animal cruelty. Many of these incidents saw the activists being hospitalised, but none of them have resulted in any prosecution of those animal abusers inflicting the injuries. In contrast, activists will go on trial next week charged with coercion for announcing demonstrations in front of a shop selling fur.

gewaltExamples include song-bird hunters breaking an activist's arm, a conservative agricultural minister punching an activist in the face and circus workers attacking activists who were distributing leaflets outside the circus with iron bars.

Often these injuries are a result of activists exposing  illegal abuse of animals where the the state has repeatedly refused to press charges and failed to execute and enforce the law.

The retelling of these stories serves to show how unjust the state's treatment of activists is in contrast to those in the business of using animals.

This week also saw a press conference take place where the defendants and their lawyers outlined the events that led up to the currents situation and were able to answer questions from the press.

First Retrial – Not Guilty Verdict

The first of the 3 retrials took place today and the judge gave the verdict of not guilty to the activist, accused of animal cruelty and criminal damage for allegedly releasing pigs from a pig barn into a meadow.

The prosecution could forget their original dream of € 5000 damages as the judge quickly established that there had been no damage done and that indeed, the three dead pigs, used as grounds for the charge of cruelty,  were already dead as a result of the dismal conditions on the farm.

This seems to be a newish tactic form those supporting animal abuse, namely to accuse animal activists of cruelty. It is reassuring to see that some judges are able to see this for the low down trick it is, but it is also  frustrating because of the way reports to the police of animal welfare laws being broken are consistently ignored.

Today's result gives us some hope that the justice system in Austria can function correctly, but of course, does not make up for the damage and trauma caused to the accused. We look forward to this continued civilised approach for the remaining two retrials.

What the Papers say ...

heuteThe papers reported very positively on the story of the not guilty verdict of animal cruelty from the first retrial court date yesterday.

It was particularly heartening that this particular paper more or less paid homage to the activist, describing him a Top Animal Campaigner and giving a biography of his animal rights achievements. The piece then went on to outline how the state and the justice system have broken him in every sense of the word and how he now, after being financially ruined, works at an animal sanctuary. The piece made the point very clearly that the death of the pigs was a result of appalling conditions on the pig farm.

Second Retrial – Not guilty!

The second retrial took place today with three activists charged with coercion. Judge Csarmann, again, found all three not guilty!

The charges were based on 2 separate events. The first being a demonstration outside the main offices of the clothing store Kleider Bauer where the spokesperson for the company was allegedly handed a leaflet and was then later surrounded by demonstrators while she was in her car. Her statement claims that the accused were verbally and physically threatening her in that they were yelling and beating their fists on the car, preventing her from driving off. Indeed, police took finger prints from the car and these matched those of the accused.

The judge heard the defence and the accused and made his verdict of not guilty based on there not being evidence for the charge. It was clear that the spokesperson had driven her car into the demonstrators. Although the finger prints of the accused had been identified, there was no damage found to the car, so the finger prints and shouting were consistent with someone driving a car into a lawful demonstration. In addition, the spokesperson had not wanted to press charges herself, but was encouraged to do so by her boss and owner of Kleider Bauer, who has been proven to have personal links high up in the special police unit investigating the animal rights activists.
Indeed, the spokesperson had not even showed up in court today, despite being called as a witness.

The second event involved one of the accused giving a speech which, according to the prosecution, amounted to coercion at a Escada annual general meeting in Germany in 2007. As a share holder, the activist was on the agenda to give a short speech on behalf of a coalition of animal rights groups against fur (OGPI) and this she did. She used the opportunity to dissuade the company from selling fur, saying that there would be a campaign against the company if they continued and she went on to describe similar campaigns against other stores that had sold fur and how their sales and image had been affected until they had eventually opted out of the fur trade. She went on to say that she wouldn't rule out that such a campaign would have the same effect on Escada. This last point was seized upon by the prosecution to base the charge of coercion on, claiming that this was tantamount to a direct threat to the business.

As an aside, in the original charge, the prosecution had described the events as though the defendant had deliberately disrupted the meeting, failing to mention that she was fully entitled to speak at the AGM. Indeed, she was able to describe to the judge today how the other shareholders present had been very interested in what she was saying and listening intently. Only the board of directors had seemed ill at ease.

Again, after listening to defence and the defendant, the judge, without calling any witnesses, announced a not guilty verdict saying that the campaign referred to at the AGM by the defendant  was fully legal, even if such a campaign included home visits, which maybe uncomfortable, but still a part of a democracy. He went on to to say that any loss in sales as a result of a legal campaign cannot, under any circumstances, be considered criminal.  Finally the judge, possibly being the first judge in history to do so, explained the the coalition group OGPI was not the ALF. He described the ALF as an ideology with no membership, no structure or chain of command. Therefore, the defendant (or anyone else for that matter) could not be responsible for any individuals should they decide to carry out criminal damage aimed at the campaign's target as this was completely outside her control.

This is it folks!

Tuesday 27.5 and Wednesday 28.5 are the final retrial dates. Now it's all about Felix Hnat and the charges against him of coercion, criminal damage and obstructing the police. Felix, like the others in the original trial, was fully acquitted in the first trial.

Tomorrow Felix will be tried for coercion

As part of a campaign to stop clothing store Kleider bauer selling fur, Felix was the person who attempted to communicate with the management. He sent polite emails asking them to talk with us, to allow us to show them why fur is a problem, to try and find a solution without having demos outside the stores. He informed them about other companies who had stopped selling fur and who were consequently being promoted by animal organisations on their fur free lists. He also informed them that there would be awareness raising demos outside the stores to inform the public about the company's involvement with the fur trade should they fail to agree to opt out of the trade. These attempts to make contact were ignored and the resulting awareness raising demos continue to this day. This email correspondence forms the basis for the charge against Felix of coercion.

photoAnyone familiar with NGO work will recognise this as classic campaigning. The supposed threat was the commencement of legal demonstrations registered with the police. The prosecution will no doubt try to argue that the demos could result in loss of earnings amounting to economic damage. But how can it be loss if the sales were not actually made? And furthermore, taken seriously, this argument could also be applied to competitors. The prosecution's attempt to criminalise this strategy is similar to their misuse of anti-Mafia laws in the first instance. For more detailed criticism of the coercion charge read Petra Veltens text.

For those who don't know, Felix is the head of the Austrian Vegan Society. Here he is straight after the aquittal at the first trial. We look forward to taking another thumbs up picture tomorrow!

Felix – Full acquittal in all counts!

At around 14:00 on the first day the judge unexpectedly ended the planned 2 day trial after passing a not guilty verdict in all counts. In the morning the coercion charge was dealt with and the two owners of Kleider Bauer were called as witnesses. Then in the early afternoon the judge ended the trial saying it was unnecessary to hear any more witnesses. The prosecution complained but to no avail and after a short recess he gave his verdict:

Thumbs up!

Felix and his LawyerHere are two very happy men, fresh out of the courtroom.

Felix is on the left with his amazing lawyer Stefan, who has worked so hard from the very beginning to achieve this result.

In a few days time it will no longer be possible for the state to appeal yesterday's verdict and it will all be over!

First Day of my Case Claiming Compensation from the Animal Rights Trial

Translated from Martin Balluch's blog:

Three lawyers sit on the other side. One representing the Republic of Austria and the other two representing the bosses of the police special operations unit from the animal rights trial.

The judge says that first of all it must be clarified whether the period in which it is possible to claim for compensation has expired, as argued by the Republic. This is what she intends to deal with today. Then, without further court dates, she will give a verdict, maybe in September. This verdict can be appealed up to the level of the Supreme Court. So, nothing will happen for one year (!), and that's if the case is accepted. If the case isn't accepted I will have to pay €60,000 (!) for today's court date to add to my existing debts from the animal rights trial. This sum is the costs for all the lawyers and the judge. This monstrous amount of money is on account of the high sum being claimed.

How can my claim for compensation be expired? The time limit to officially file for damages is three years. The first time we got hold of the infiltration reports was on 2nd December 2010. It was only then that we realised just how exonerating they were. On 2nd May 2011 I was acquitted. It was only at this point that damages were incurred. Without an acquittal it is not possible to make a claim for damages. My acquittal became final on 1st July 2012. I started legal proceedings at the beginning of April 2013.

The Republic says we should have had the infiltrator's reports from the police before. Of course, we had tried to get them, but we had to employ a private detective to uncover the presence of “Danielle Durand” the infiltraor. Month after month and year after year I tried again and again to get access to the case files from the police. Time and time again I was turned down and given excuses for why it wasn't possible. Three times I brought the police special unit to court over this and three times they lost. The verdict each time being that they must grant me access. And despite all this, they still didn't manage to.

Nevertheless, the Republic remains insistent that it's my own fault and now it's too late to claim for damages.

According to the Republic, I should have filed a claim for damages during the criminal trial against me. But, what would that have meant? Firstly, the damages were not a given at that time. Secondly, in a civil case I would have been obliged to answer all questions truthful, but in a criminal case I have rights which make it possible for me as a defendant to lie or avoid questioning. So it is not possible from a criminal law point of view to be party in a civil and criminal case dealing with the same issue simultaneously without losing rights as a defendant.

Thirdly, how should I have brought charges without having seen the infiltrator's reports and without being aware that the special unit would use the trick of withholding them because they were exonerating evidence?

Now we can only wait for a verdict and should the green light come, start the case. This is a saga with out end!