August 28, 2008
3 months incarcerated – and no end in sight!
Mid-May, the largest police operation ever in Austria against a social justice movement saw dawn raids in 23 houses and offices of animal rights folk across the country. Masked officers pulled more than 30 people at gun point out of their beds and ransacked their places. Seven animal rights groups had all their stuff removed – till today.
And equally till today, 10 activists are still being held on remand in prison cells without charge and without evidence.
Slowly during these last 3 months, ever more information has been revealed about this police operation. We now know that 17 people had their phones tapped and their emails read over one and a half years, 3 houses had their entrances filmed, 2 cars had tracking devices put on them and at least 7 homes and offices were bugged. In addition, 20 people had their bank accounts monitored and 17 people were watched and followed for months. Further, police agents infiltrated animal rights groups, among them VGT.
All this massive operation at taxpayers’ expense of way beyond 1 million Euros, i.e. much more than the damage by the crimes they were supposedly out to solve, lead NOWHERE. No evidence of any criminal offence.
But we are still in prison. Instead of being suspected of some sort of concrete criminal offence, we supposedly form a big criminal organisation. For that, the prosecution says, there does not need to be any evidence for a criminal offence. The suspects do not even need to know each other. It is supposedly sufficient to keep running your animal rights campaign while at the same time accepting that other people unknown might act criminally for the same or a similar goal. Would you believe that you could be locked up for that?
I have just been interrogated for 20 hours by police. They have put all their "evidence" before me to comment on. This is what they claim:
I encrypt emails
VGT is meeting in private places without public access
VGT is not openly planning actions on the phone
Taken out of context, some 5 emails of those 5000 I wrote in the last 11 (!) years sound radical
I have international contacts
I organise many conferences and meetings for recruiting new activists to the cause
I write books and run radio and TV shows on animal rights, which use occosionally radical brochures and which occosionally mention the ALF
That is it. That is the "evidence" against me. There is nothing more to it. According to state prosecution and remand judges, this justifies locking me up for god knows how many months on remand, and possibly putting me on trial. For the prosecution and police, most activists in Austria abroad are part of a giant criminal organisation, which is responsible of all ALF actions ever made anywhere. Their interpretation of the term "organisation" allows for that. It means "being of the same mind-set". Anybody, who is animal rights minded, and who remains so, after someone somewhere with the same ideology committed an offence, belongs to this organisation.
It is so ludicrous that I would laugh my head off, had somebody told me before. Now, in prison, I do not laugh anymore. It has become serious.
What is going on here? Well, I have a good guess. It is clear, I believe, that those in power, who formed the special police unit and started it all, had only one thing on their agenda: smash the animal rights movement, smash the VGT, and especially shut this bloke Balluch up.
There is a lot of evidence that this is exactly what they were out for. For example, we have a report of a meeting of the police special unit, solely debating how they could damage and destroy VGT. They debated a number of ways how to attack and arranged a next meeting with the same topic 5 days later. And that meeting took place 1 month into my incarceration. That proves that it is not criminal offences they want so solve. They are after blood. They want to destroy VGT and its successful networks and infrastructure. They just use the fact that there were criminal offences committed, albeit on a very low level, as an excuse to construct this "criminal organisation" to justify large scale police operations and many months if not years in remand.
As time goes on, this unbelievable nightmare is becoming more and more a gigantic scandal of massive proportions! What an outrageous abuse of power! What a totalitarian attack on democracy and human rights! I hope you agree that we cannot let them get away with this. If such police state behaviour becomes the norm, who will dare to stand up and criticize the system? Who will continue animal rights campaigns? After all, NOTHING I have done that landed me in prison was out of the ordinary or in any way strange for animal rights activities. If I can be locked up for it, anybody can. To campaign for animal rights in any form means being with one foot in prison already.
I can only reiterate: Folks, we are at a historic moment in time. Animal rights has become an issue that seriously challenges the system. The powerful have decided to smash it with brute force. We have to stand together firm now and fight this decisive battle. We cannot let them get away with that. We must win this one. No further repression. No silencing of legitimate activism anymore. If we do not manage to Stop this operation and hold these responsible accountable, we won’t be able to be active for animal rights any longer. No further retreat. This is about all or nothing.
I count on you lot!
Martin Balluch, political prisoner, JA-Josefstadt Vienna
100 Days Custody - Animal Protection Custody Scandal
Evidence implies special commission (Soko) intends to deliberately damage animal protection association
On 21 May 2008, the largest police operation against NGOs in Austrian history went into its hottest phase. After months of large scale surveillance – with undercover agents infiltrating groups, tracking devices on cars, twenty people under observation, bugs in animal protection offices and wire tapped telephone conversations – 23 masked and armed police officers stormed offices and apartments in the early hours, questioned 30 people and took ten into remand in custody, where they remain, today, three months later.
From the onset, it was noteworthy that there was no recognisable provocation for the large scale operation: animal protection related criminality is far lower in Austria than elsewhere; animal protection and in particular the Association Against Animal Factories (VGT) is more successful in Austria than in other countries; fur farms and battery farms are forbidden here - a successful animal protection movement that has lead to the most brutal police action. But surely only conspiracy theorists would see any connection.
Meeting Minutes prove the Soko is deliberately damaging the VGT!
The VGT now has evidence that there is a larger context for these actions. The animal protection association has a copy of the signed minutes of a Soko meeting, in which the sole point of discussion is how one could damage the Association Against Animal Protection. A further meeting on the same subject is agreed to take place 4 days later, on the 24 June 2008.
VGT president Martin Balluch, who is still on remand in custody, comments from his prison cell: "Since our biggest animal protection success in 2004, we have been feeling the increasing repression by the police. That was when the Animal Protection Federal Law was passed leading to major costs for industrial livestock owners. We have evidence that the police has been advising our counterparts, for example companies practicing cruelty to animals, how to effectively combat our legitimate campaigns and has been taking increasingly brutal steps against us. In 2005, an article was printed in the Austrian daily newspaper "Salzburger Nachrichten" in which a high-ranking official of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Action Against Terrorism claimed that Animal Protection was the biggest threat to national security in Austria.
After that there were wide-reaching prohibitions for our demonstrations. Any action we took was combated with massive police presence and rigorous penalties. Now we have the evidence in our hands, just in case any more was needed, that the special commission setup by the Ministry of the Interior in 2006, was not meant to cast light on criminal offences but to cause major damage to the animal protection movement.
It is then easy to understand ongoing refusal [by the Authorities] to return the seized computers and data archives, rendering five of the most active Austrian animal protection associations incapable of action to this date.