10/27/10 Stop Violating Human Rights In Austria

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Animal Friends Croatia, For the Animals! From Slovenia, and activists for human rights organize a solidarity demo for the Austrian animal rights activists in front of the Austrian Embassy in Ljubljana

- Joining the demo in front of the Embassy will be one of the accused activists, David Richter

There is an awful case of political persecution in Austria. Austrian activists are faced with up to five years in prison for using their rights of freedom of speech, freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly. The accusations, as well as the reports from the process, show that the only foundation of the accusations is the political activity of the Association, like organizing public demonstrations and expressing their own personal radical opinions.

The Slovenian association for animal rights "For The Animals!," Croatian organization Animal Friends and activists for human rights, organize a peaceful protest this Wednesday, October 27, in front of the Austrian Embassy in Ljubljana, Presernova cesta 23, from 12 noon till 1 P.M., where they will warn about the harsh violation of human rights in Austria, thus joining protests all over the world. David Richter, one of the accused activists, will also join the demo.

On May 21, 2008, special units of the Austrian police arrested 10 leading campaigners from the country's successful animal protection movement. The activists, among them a former research assistant at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Martin Balluch, were put on remand. However, the imprisoned activists insisted that the prosecution files they were eventually given access to contained absolutely no evidence of any criminal offence but rather a description of their campaigning for changing laws and business policies. One of the prisoners went on hunger strike and stayed without food for 39 days. Fierce criticism came from many well-known personalities and organisations, including Amnesty International.

After more than three months, a senior state prosecutor ordered release of the activists, saying the time spent in custody must be in proportion to the expected sentence. This drove away most of the public attention, but the case wasn't over. In February 2010, the state prosecution announced that enough evidence had been found to put 13 animal protection activists, including the ten who had spent three months in custody, on trial. Four of the accused activists decided to publish their accusations on the internet. In these accusations, there is nothing that would prove criminal acting, from which the public can assure by reading the accusation of David Richer here: www.vgt.at/actionalert/repression/strafantrag/strafantragdrhb.pdf.

Austria found themselves in trouble. However, in order to bypass the lack of evidence, the prosecution uses the vague wording of Article 278a of the Austrian Penal Code, which is used for the prosecution of the Mafia, and by that they promote Orwell's "Thought Criminal."

"Criminal thinking" of the activists was used as evidence of their alleged membership in a criminal organisation, and that alleged affiliation is proof that their legal action to protect the animals is – criminal. By that, they are mocking the Austrian Statute – saying that organizing public demos is a criminal act. So, the alleged membership in a criminal organization is based on organizing public actions and conferences, expressing opinions and being politically active.

The process was launched in March 2010 and it is predicted to last until 2011. Each of the activists is threatened by imprisonment of five years and payment of court costs and attorneys' fees of over 35.000 euros as those costs will not be returned to them regardless of the result of the process. Stefan Traxler, lawyer of the five defendands, doubts the fairness of the process. Specifically, in his 14 years of practice, never has he been so often interrupted by the judge with the reason of rejecting the presented evidence, including all proposed witnesses.

As the process progresses, it is obvious that the prosecution has no evidence that this is a criminal organisation. Also the Austrian public starts to realize this and more and more stands by the accused activists. The biggest apsurdity is that the activists are being tried under Article 278a, which accuses them for terrorism, while the activists actually fight terrorism – terrorism that is implemented on the animals, through legal actions and political activism.

The aim of this protest in Ljubljana, on which a huge banner will be spread with a clear message, is to inform the public that Austria is a state in which political activists can face up to five years of prison, and to call upon Austria to stop intimidating their citizens with financial collapse and prison because of their political work and personal opinion.

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