09/03/08 From Prison to the Austrian Parliament

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Animal Friends welcomes the release of its Austrian colleagues!

A bit more than one hundred days ago, armed police units stormed into homes of animal advocates and offices of several animal rights organizations. Doors were rammed open and there followed intimidation through verbal and bodily harassment. Ten people were arrested, offices were searched, and equipment and materials confiscated.

This was justified by the Article 278a of the Austrian Penal Code, a law, which is otherwise used solely in relation to smuggling rings and Mafia groups, human trafficking and drug rings! Although there was neither proof that alleged "criminal organisation" exists nor concrete connections that the detainees supposedly have with this ominous organization, ten activists were more than three months held in custody without clear evidence and charges.

Yesterday afternoon Christof, Elmar, Felix, Jan, Jürgen, Kevin, Leo, Martin, and Sabine (Christian had been released earlier) have finally been set free by the Appellate court. Thus ended a process which, according to the newly gathered evidence, was "directed" by the special commission (Soko) with aim of destroying one of the most influenced animal rights groups in Austria – Verein Gegen Tierfabriken.

VGT president Martin Balluch, commented about this from his prison cell a few days ago: "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 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."

Only four days after Balluch's statement, he and his colleagues were set free by the Appellate court.

During his custody, Dr. Martin Balluch has been visited in prison by the leader of the Austrian Greens, Alexander Van der Bellen, who invited him to run as an independent candidate for the Greens in the upcoming national election on September 28. Balluch will be elected at the Green Party conference on September 7. Van der Bellen told the Austrian Standard newspaper: "I have invited Balluch to run as a candidate for the Green party. He will be given a place high up on the list of candidates." Van der Bellen described Balluch's candidacy to the ORF (Austrian TV) as "An expression of appreciation for the work of non-governmental organizations."

This case shows the strength of animal protection and rights organizations, which through their activities reached big goals in animal protection. It also clearly shows the repression of the state and police forces over activists and organizations who through legitimate ways achieved what individuals, companies and the government did not want them to achieve.

More than one hundred days in custody did not break the spirit of organizations nor interfered with their activities. With even greater ardor and energy they will now continue fighting for animal rights and protection and realization of their rights which were denied them with this shameful act of the Austrian state.

Animal Friends gives full support to its Austrian colleagues and all their actions in putting an end to cruelty to animals. It also congratulates Dr. Balluch on his candidacy and hopes that this praiseworthy move of the Green party and setting free of all imprisoned activists marks an end of one ugly, dark and disgraceful period of the Austrian legal system.

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