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Update on forthcoming trial of Austrian activists
Update on forthcoming trial of Austrian activists

By Martin Balluch

The trial date is approaching rapidly. Let me give you a few updates.

1) We still have no access to the police files on the case. Such access is, however, necessary, to prepare the defense. In fact, none of the 10 defendants has so far presented their list of witnesses.

In February 2009, a judge ruled that police has to allow access to their files. However, police has refused and found excuses all the time. So we brought that to the attention of the same judge, who summoned the police for another verdict. 4 times the police did not respond, they claimed they had not received the 3 faxes the judge had sent them, or were on holiday, or did not have enough time to explain why they do not want to allow access. At the end the judge said that he will rule on 13th January 2010 in any case, even if the police have not presented their case till then. A week before this court date, the judge was removed from the case!!!! A new judge has been appointed and she cancelled the court date since she needs to read the court papers first. No new date has been set to this day.

2) During the days around Christmas and New Year, I was in a house in the mountains with friends visiting. Altogether at least 6 times during those 14 days, police went up the dead-end road to the house and wrote down number plates of the visitors' cars. Also, they peeped through the window into the house and asked if I was there.

3) In September 2008, just when the 10 were released from prison, the biggest daily newspaper reported that police was convinced that VGT was responsible for arson and 224 cases of criminal damage. VGT sued this newspaper for libel and one in the first round. The newspaper appealed in the last minute to delay procedures. Now, the upper appeal court has ruled that the newspaper has libeled VGT and must pay damages as well as publicly state that their statement was wrong. Also, they must publish that for 30 days on their website.
In the court ruling the judges say that neither VGT nor Martin Balluch can be said to be suspected of arson or criminal damage, since there is no evidence for that.

4) A number of people have been pulled in and questioned by police in the last weeks. Only 3 days ago, an activist had been ordered to the police station for an interview under threat of arrest. As did the others, he came with his lawyer, wearing gloves and a hat so that he would not leave fingerprints or DNA. He said he refused to give a statement. In his case, though, the police was not just very aggressive and assertive as with the others, but they also brought a state doctor. They claimed the activist is a possible suicide candidate and the doctor must see him and possibly move him to a psychiatric unit! The lawyer intervened, did not allow the doctor to see the activist and immediately left. The police wanted to stop them but thanks to the intervention of the lawyer they did not succeed!

5) We are planning a number of press conferences before and during the trial. In 2 days, on Wednesday, we will do our next press conference on the issue of the government tightening the law instead of making it more compatible with democracy. We had very good coverage so far on this issue and wonderful support, not just from other animal groups and NGOs from other social movements, but also from the journalist union and the guild of lawyers, who explicitly referred to the animal rights case as an example of the damage this law can do.

In 3 weeks we will do a press conference on the self indictments. We have received more than 200 by now and are still hoping for more!

Just before the trial starts we will do a press conference. And there are two during the trial scheduled already, one with a German expert and one with Peter Singer, who will be visiting Vienna just for that occasion!

6) At last a bit of very good news. The special police unit chasing animal activists had decided in June 2008, while the activists were in prison, that they want to try to remove the charity status from VGT so that VGT can be dissolved and driven to bankruptcy. Just after the police had to give the computers back to VGT according to a court ruling 10 months after the raids, tax inspectors raided the VGT office yet again and went through all book keeping. A ministerial internal letter stated directly, that VGT should loose its charity status. Arguments were that VGT was too radical and that VGT demanded law changes. It was said that demos and actions are contrary to being a charity. But the tax inspectors turned out to be objective and after 18 months of investigating found that VGT was a charity. On 12th January 2010 they had a meeting with the ministerial people and told us that they managed to persuade them that their view is, indeed, correct. On 15th January, the investigation was officially ended and VGT was given the go ahead of being a charity after all!

-- Martin Balluch

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