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
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
For more information, visist: