It has now been almost six weeks since we have had our companions by our side. We know from visits to the prisons that one of the most import things to the prisoners is the correspondence that they are receiving from around the world.
Felix Hnat (Chair of the Austrian Vegan Society)
LETTER FROM FELIX:
Dear friends, supporters and interested parties,
I still cannot comprehend what has happened to me. It is like a bad film. Today I have been in prison for three weeks and one day, and I have still not had full access to the prosecution files. It is still unclear what I am being accused of!
But, one thing is sure, I will continue to campaign for animal rights and veganism, and I will not let the State bully me into stopping!
The volume of solidarity is unbelievable. I am almost moved to tears to see how many people are taking a stand for animal rights and against this arbitrary police brutality.
It seems like more and more people are prepared to selflessly and voluntarily fight for a better world.
LETTER FROM ELMAR:
I am one of those 10 Animal Right Activists, who have been arrested totally unexpectedly about 3 weeks ago after 23 raids in Austria.
On Wednesday, the 21st of May, shortly before 6 a.m. some masked WEGA-Policemen destroyed my apartment door when they broke in and woke me through their screaming. They had weapons pointing at me.
Immediately they took my cell phone and at least 20 plainclothes policemen began to search and turn my place upside down, the cellar and the car.
I was in a state of complete shock. I was not informed that I have the right to request that a trusted person be present during the search, and a s a result it was impossible for me to oversee whether the items taken really originated from my home.
At this point I was still thinking that all of this must be an error and assumed that I would be able to show up at work in a few hours, as usual.
It was the suggestion from an officer, to bring a book to read that confused me. I took the first book I could get hold on from the shelf. This book should become very significant for the weeks to come: Kafka�s 'The Trial'.
Only after many hours and many official and unofficial interviews in the police station did I get round to actually reading my arrest and search warrant.
In the warrant I found very general reference to dozens of offences since 1997, committed by �un- named - "people from the militant Animal Rights Scene". One of them was supposed to be a stink bomb attack against fur stores.
Apparently the un-named delinquents sent claims of responsibility under the name of the A.L.F (Animal Liberation Front). As a result, the felonies are being allocated to a 'criminal Organisation (�278a StGB).
"As a consequence" as it misleadingly says in the end of the arrest warrant- there is a suspicion against of '"the criminal Organization". Without any tangible indication and without any evidence, that's how fast you can get imprisoned in this country.
Theoretically, at the moment of the arrest, the defence lawyers should have �"a complete and comprehensive" access to the files. Those of us, who were "lucky" got 25%(!) of the files after 2 days, others had to wait much longer.
Within those 1000 pages, my name only appears once: totally out of context as a name to be searched for one of the confiscated PCs.
After 3 Days in jail, I was put in remand custody. There may be danger of collusion, but I don't know what I could 'collude' about. It seems to me that this is about data encryption.
Out of despair and protest against the measures being taking, which seem totally unjustified to me, I went on hunger strike a day later. The International Convention on Human Rights states that "Everyone who is arrested shall be informed promptly, in a language which he understands, of the reasons for his arrest and of any charge against him"
Eight days after my arrest I received another small part of my file. Out of 3 telephone calls, which have been monitored, where I philosophize generally about data encryption, the public prosecutor and the judge come to the conclusion that I am the 'Expert on data processing' for the '"criminal organization". Just like "Mr K" in his "The Trial". I still don�t know what offence I am supposed to have committed!
My dwindling hopes that the truth will come out and that justice will be respected, are finally being destroyed after 17 days of isolated imprisonment and 12 days of hunger strike.
On the 6 June, at the remand hearing the arguments and facts were irrelevant. Although our objections make sense (misuse of �278a, total lack of evidence and suspicion of crime), the court was not only unimpressed, but make absolutely no comment. The, theoretically, independent judge signed a seemingly predetermined and printed document for a further extension of the period of remand.
My trust in the constitutional state is finally and ultimately gone. My Job most likely too.
Emotionally seen, but also formally, a hunger strike seems more justifiable then ever.
All 10 of us are afraid, that Austria hasn't learned anything from Operation Spring: An Austrian film concerning police investigations and court proceedings against Africans suspected of belonging to a Nigerian drug ring. The film poses the question of whether the defendants ever stood a chance of receiving a fair trial.
Yours, DI Elmar Völkl
LETTER FROM CHRIS:
I�ve been in prison now for four weeks � for no reason! The first week I was in prison in Innsbruck after police officers searched through our house, in which my wife and our three children live, for four hours. During the house search I had to sit with handcuffs in the kitchen.
On Thursday, May 29th, 2008 I was moved to a prison in Wr. Neustadt. Wr. Neustadt seems to be rather more "comfortable" � if a prisoner can use that word � in comparison to Innsbruck.
The vegan food in Wr. Neustadt is much better than in Innsbruck. During my whole week in Innsbruck I just got brown bread and one or two times plain rice and salad from which I had to wash off the marinade because nobody could tell me the ingredients of the food. When I asked for vegan food, the officer and the doctor told me "We are a prison and not a Wellness Hotel!". Here in Wr. Neustadt they cook for vegans too. For example today we had tofu for the first time.
Every day in prison is virtually the same. At six o� clock the neon light in the cells is switched on. We must make the beds before seven and during the day we are only allowed to lie on the bed completely dressed and not covered with the blanket. At seven we get breakfast. The vegans get bananas, brown bread, margarine and jam.
At about eight o� clock the first prisoners are allowed to go out in the courtyard � one hour a day and that is the only hour outside. While in the prison in Innsbruck the court was just made out of asphalt and you could just see fences and walls, here in Wr. Neustadt there is some grass and even a tree, a rowan tree.
Monday and Thursday we go outside a little bit later because these days we can shower in groups of four to eight prisoners. When we are outside one officer and three or four cameras observe us. Most prisoners walk very slowly or just sit down and smoke. I walk very fast because I�m used to much more exercise. I often lap the other prisoners by about thirty rounds. I try to enjoy and use the only hour outside as well as possible.
This is the only time that I spend with other prisoners, apart from the person I share my cell with. Other prisoners are here because of e.g. robbery and grievous bodily harm. Many of them have to stay in prison for a long time. That makes the situation that I�m here because of the accusation that I�m part of a "criminal organisation" even more grotesque than it already is.
It seems that I�m the only non-smoker in the prison. Since my arrest on Wednesday, May 21st I shared with five different people a cell, three in Innsbruck and two in Wr. Neustadt. Four of the five were on some kind of drug withdrawal, all were chain smokers.
The persons who are on drug withdrawal are very strenuous. The prisoner with who I share the cell right now e.g. had to vomit into a bucket in the upper bunk bed from Sunday night to Monday every 15 minutes, while I was lying in the lower bunk bed. Although I do not understand people who take drugs and I�m completely against drugs, I feel sorry for these people here.
At about half past eleven we get lunch. At about five in the evening we get dinner. During the morning I write, read or draw mostly. After lunch I often watch TV. At half past two pm I always watch Spongebob on TV.
Some days ago I got to have a sketch pad and water colours in my cell. I�m drawing a portrait of myself and a portrait of my cell mate, because he asked me to. I also started to draw portraits of my three children from their photos that I have with me here.
Since I was arrested I have written nearly a hundred pages, something like a diary and thoughts about my arrest. I also answer all the letters from my family and from relatives. I get lots of post, this week I already got about ten postcards and four or five letters � I enjoy getting post, especially from my wife and my children.
The worst here in prison is that I�m separated from my beloved wife and my beloved children. I cannot describe how much I miss them. My oldest son is Samuel, 10. He was so shocked about my arrest that by his first visit he could not stop crying. Noah is five years old. I cannot forget how he was waving me, when I got arrested. My daughter Talia, 2, is the youngest. I�m very concerned about my relationship with her. Our relationship could be seriously damaged as a result of this separation. I have to force myself to stop thinking about these thoughts, or I feel like I�m losing my mind with worry. Karin, Talia, Noah and Samuel, you cannot imagine how much I miss you.
Apart from the pain not to be allowed to be with my wife and my children, I�m concerned about our future after the arrest, especially about our financial situation.
Although I work most of the time on my art � you can see it on
www.radikalkunst.net - I have also worked for the last ten years as restorer for an archaeologist. There I do the cleaning, preservation and restoration of archaeological discoveries � mainly from the Middle Ages. I hope very much that I can carry on with my work there after my release � which should actually be right now, because I�m innocent.
I can carry on with my art here in the prison too, although I don�t have the material and the tools, I can draw and design � and I can write. My cell is about 2.5 x 6 metres. In it there is a bunk bed, two closets, one shelf, one table, two chairs, one washbasin and one partitioned off lavatory. There is also a window with bars. In the cell we also have a television set and a radio, which I didn�t have in Innsbruck where I stayed a whole week.
In Wr. Neustadt I�m in cell 9 and my prisoner number is 91001.
When I see the children�s programme that I watch at home with my children, I have to cry. Even pictures from happy families or children or the words "family", "children" or "home" are enough to frustrate me and make me cry. I think my time in prison would be much easier if I didn�t have a family from who I�m separated. On the other side my family is one reason why this imprisonment without any charges has to end rapidly.
Although I�m desperate because I�m separated from Karin, Talia, Noah and Samuel and although I�m afraid about our financial situation, it is sure that I will come out of prison alive.
Not so for millions of animals every year who die after their imprisonment. And doing something artistically and active against this injustice is a criminal offence?
From prison, greetings for Karin, Talia, Noah and Samuel, I love you!
Please continue to help keep their spirits up by dropping them a line: