Vienna, 29th September 2010
Endless - This trial against 13 animal rights campaigners accused of being
members of a Mafia-like criminal organisation started on 2 March 2010. So far
there have been 50 days spent in court and the end of this monster trial is no
where in sight. On the contrary, the court is still only hearing witnesses from
Criticism and costs - It is expected that the case will be heard until well into
2011. An increasing number of notable legal experts and journalists openly criticise the trial, not only condemning the initial decision to use anti-Mafia
laws against NGO campaigners, but also the treatment of the defendants in the
court proceedings and the unbelievably long duration of the trial. Aside from
the cost of such a trial for the tax payer, the defendants have been unable to
work since the trial began and can look forward to personal financial ruin
incurred through lawyers costs alone.
Absence of evidence - In all these hours and days in court spent listening to
the prosecution's case not one piece of evidence has been brought forward to
implicate the defendants in belonging to a criminal organisation, or indeed that
such an organisation even exists!
A mockery - Many people have expressed their despair at the situation by
ridiculing the trial. Since the first day in court there have been a succession
of happenings at the court ranging from balloons with messages on them appearing
at the windows of the court room to members of the public simultaneously
adorning red clown noses while sitting in the court room's public gallery. The
court's reaction has been to fill the public gallery seats with police cadets
making it often impossible for defendants' family and friends to watch the
Injured in court - The application made to the court by one of the defendants
questioning the presence of police cadets in the public gallery angered the
judge so much that she not only turned down the application, but also had the
defendant thrown out of the court. When the defendant refused to leave she had
police manhandle him out of the court. As a result of injuries sustained during
his removal, the defendant had to spend the following day in hospital.
Right to cross-examine witnesses refused – This month saw the head of the
special police unit responsible for the investigations and his second in command
in the witness box. They were unable to present any evidence against the
defendants and mostly replied to questions that they either couldn't remember
anything or that they would have to refer to the files. When the defence asked
why, after such intensive investigations, the unit was unable to present any
clear evidence, the head of the police unit answered that the accused operate in
such a professional way that it is not possible to uncover them. Shockingly the
judge refused defendants' their right to further cross examine these extremely
important witnesses. The defence has demanded that these witnesses be called to
The court was in recess throughout August.
Police computer expert – Testifying in court, the police special unit's computer
expert said that he had never dealt with so many encrypted e-mails. Although
police were unable to crack pgp and truecrypt, they were able to crack Window's
EFS encryption and retrieve deleted e-mails from defendants' computer trash
folders. Apart from the occasional e-mail from the mid 90s written by Dr Balluch
to his father describing demonstrations in the UK where damage to property had
taken place, nothing of relevance to the trial could be reported.
The same computer expert went on to testify that the texts previously referred
to by the prosecution's linguistic expert as having been written by Dr Balluch
were nowhere to be found on Balluch's computer. The computer expert informed the
court that these texts had been located on a VGT computer belonging to former
VGT director Franz Plank. The texts were written between 1994 and 1997,
therefore preceding Dr Balluch's arrival in Austria.
Hostility – Much of this case rests on the prosecution being able to prove that
a structured criminal organisation exists in which the defendants cooperate with
each other. However, the newest report from the special police unit (yes, police
continue to investigate as you read this update) on contact between defendants'
respective groups shows that not only has there been no cooperation, but that,
on the contrary, there is a long history of outright hostility between the
Mobile phone tracking – A further police expert presented data to the court on
the location of defendants' mobile phones during times when criminal offences
were committed by unknown persons. This data provided exonerating evidence for
the defendants, but as with so much exonerating evidence in this trial, it is
nowhere to be found in the prosecution files.
Defendants charged to read prosecution case files – In a bizarre move this week
the court presented one of the defendants with an invoice for €28 for making
mobile phone photos of pages from the case files. The files exceed 200,000 pages
and in order to get access the defendants have to pay the court €1 a page for
paper photocopies. A way around this is to use a mobile phone to photograph the
pages relevant to the day’s proceedings, but now the court is trying to insist
that 50 cents must be paid for each photo made by the defendants themselves!