The Story So Far
Around 6:00 am on Wednesday May 21 members of the Viennese elite police force (WEGA) stormed several apartments in Vienna. Several of the residents were woken up in their beds with guns drawn on them. A total of twenty-three (23) apartments, houses and offices were searched in Vienna, Lower Austria, Styria and Tirol.
In many of the apartments the WEGA – a special unit for missions with a “heightened threat potential! – kicked in the doors. The officers stormed the apartments like in bad Hollywood movies. Only after the residents had been intimidated, “secured” on the wall and/or put in handcuffs did the police start the searches.
The grounds for the searches was the accusation Formation of a Criminal Organization according to §278a of the penal code as well as accusations of various crimes such as property damage, arson, etc.. There were arrest warrants for 10 of the people targeted by the searches. The grounds for the arrest warrants was the accusation of Danger of the Destruction of Evidence (because, for example, the accused communicated via encrypted e-mails) as well as Danger of Committing a Crime (partially because the accused have been active in the animal rights scene for a long time). Both lines of argumentation stand in blatant opposition to the presumption of innocence. During the house searches a large part of the targeted persons were denied the ability to call a person of their confidence or legal representatives. Friends who wanted to observe the legality of the actions were also denied the possibility to speak to the accused.
The accused were brought from their apartments either directly to the police detention center at Rossauer Lände or first were held intermittently at police stations. Afterwards all 10 were brought to Wiener Neustadt and were brought before a custodial judge within the next three days, at which point they were remanded without bail.
A few of the prisoners were moved on May 28 from the detention center in Wiener Neustadt to Vienna (Justizanstalt Josefstadt) and Eisenstadt respectively, without their attorneys being notified. On the one hand the prosecutors gave conspiracy as the reason for separating and isolating the prisoners from one another, on the other hand it is believed that the intention was partially the scattering and splitting up of the protests and demonstrations in front of the jails.
The activists were repeatedly remanded to pre-trial detention on the grounds of Danger of Destruction of Evidence and Danger of Committing (Further) Crimes.
The supposed Danger of Destruction of Evidence can only justify pre-trial detainment for the first two months of detainment, so it ceased to apply on July 24, 2008. Effectually this was a case of coercive detainment, which in this form is illegal in Austria, to force “break” the targeted persons and to force them to distance themselves (from each other and/or the charges) or to make incriminating statements.
On August 13, 2008 the first of the prisoners finally was released as the presiding judge distanced himself from the position of the prosecution and failed to see the presence of Danger of Committing (Further) Crimes.
The prosecution appealed the decision to release the prisoner. However as a further consequence they had to cave to the orders of the higher-ranking state attorneys (Oberstaatsanwaltschaft) from Vienna and were forced to release the other nine prisoners on September 2, 2008. In a complete surprise the Oberstaatsanwaltschaft established that the expected jail time in the case of a conviction was out of proportion to the amount of time the prisoners had already spent in pre-trial detention. This argument seemed especially unusual because the punishment in a conviction for §278a is six months to five years jail time.
Assumedly they became nervous that the evidence is not sufficient for a conviction.
After 105 days in jail, innumerable solidarity protests worldwide, animal liberations, banner actions, etc. the activists are finally free again. Even the bourgeois public was suprisingly critical of the reasons for the imprisonment and there was an unbelievable and overwhelming positive media response. And a politcal party demonstratively rallied behind the prisoners during the election campaign.
Meanwhile, the actual charges and the shape of the legal proceedings remain unclear. According to the current state of knowledge as regards the record, the evidence continues to be more than lacking. Some of the purported arsons of the “Criminal Organization”, which were at first massively spread about in the media, are mentioned in the files only as yet another unsolved “attack” without any connection to the accused.
Other crimes allegedly perpetrated by the “criminal organization”, for example a dangerous threat involving the distribution of poisoned toothpaste, have completely disappeared. In another case, there is still talk of an arson attack against a hunting lodge although it has long since been cleared up that an overheated oven caused the fire.
These examples illustrate yet again the arbitrariness with which unsolved crimes are randomly tossed together in order to construct a criminal organization. The other crimes mentioned in the files are all in all small potatoes, such as the smashing of a window or spray-painting graffiti, which would normally fall under local district jurisdiction and would probably be settled out of court without jail time.
There is still no statement from the prosecution as to exactly how the alleged criminal organization is structured such that it falls under §278a of the penal code and thereby also justifies the detentions. The suspicion that the investigations were a shot in the dark, that the evaluation of the evidence brought nothing to light and that the fact that the accused have executed their right to remain silent has led to the accusation that they are not willing to cooperate because they continue to refuse to reveal their passwords and codes for encrypted hard drives and e-mails is just the tip of the iceberg. Fundamental and constitutionally protected rights are being undermined and political activists are being portrayed as criminals. Legal activism done over years, such as campaign work, participation in protests, the writing of fliers or public appearances at podium discussions, is being bent into evidence for supposed criminal actions. The fact that the accused had publicly accessible information about animal enterprises, company management, board members or spokespeople lying around at home is now being interpreted against them as highly suspicious. What is thereby overlooked is that every NGO in the course of a campaign does completely legal research about the relevant public figures and organizations in order to figure out where and in what form protest makes sense and can
We must assume that law enforcement officials are spying on a large scale – beyond animal rights activism and the accused people along with their political groups and social circle as well as parts of the solidarity structures for the accused – by means of wiretapping and other methods that were recently made legal under a new police law (telephone and cell phone eavesdropping, locating people, determining patterns of movement, evaluating public and private surveillance cameras for possible incriminating material, internet surveillance, e-mail scanning…). Thus there are explanations and texts from the legal support team as well as print-outs from no-racism.net and at.indymedia.org in the files.
Furthermore we anticipate that people may soon receive summons to go to the police or the prosecution because the authorities (since they have not received any information from the people being detained) hope for further information to support their fantasies of a criminal organization. Since the prisoners have been released, there have been at least three house searches.
If you become targeted by the police, get in touch with the legal support team! And important: do not say anything to authorities!
Remaining silent is not only a right but also a political tool to protect our structures and work – get informed about it and apply it!
§278a is being used here just as §129a and b in Germany: to criminalize politically active people, to launch massive investigations against them, to spy and to intimidate. We refuse to let ourselves intimidated. On the contrary: the many actions all over the world are part of a wave of solidarity with the 10 former prison and the others targeted by the house searches and investigations!
Since at least 1997 the “Staatspolizei” (secret police) has been spying on and documenting animal rights demonstrations and activities.
August 14 2006 After a four year campaign, Peek & Cloppenburg announce an end to the sale of fur at their stores. The authorities tried to make protests in the course the campaign impossible. The denial of protest permits was later overturned by the Independent Senate for Administrative Cases (UVS).
October 25 2006 The Kleider Bauer campaign begins in Austria.
December 2006 Anti-fur protests in front of KleiderBauer stores are broken up by the police with the argumentation „Public safety cannot be guaranteed“ and other protest were denied permits by the authorities responsible for assemblies.
January/February 2007 Further protests in front of Kleider Bauer and its daughter company Hämmerle are denied permits. The protests are held anyway, taking into account the possibility of administrative penalties.
April 2007 The special commission (SOKO) Bekleidung/Pelztier (Clothing/Animal with valuable fur) is formed because of property damage to two cars belonging to the owner of Kleider Bauer. Again denial of protest permits of all protests in front of Kleider Bauer/Hämmerle stores with the argumentation, the protests damage business. They argued, the right to freedom of assembly does not stand above the right to run a business.
May 2007 The SOKO begins to analyse the localisation information of cell phones and in the following months successively increases the surveillance to include surveillance of phones, cars, apartments and persons. More in the article: Investigatory and Surveillance Measures
May 21, 2008, 6 am: Special forces of the police raid 23 flats, houses and offices. Ten persons are arrested without specific allegations. Several other activists are summoned for immediate questioning.
May 21 First protest in Vienna against the wave of repression.
May 22 One of the arrested begins a hunger strike in protest of the arbitrariness of police actions. The Hunger strike lasted for 39 days. Further protests in Vienna and Berlin (During the next 3 1/2 months, there were protests nearly every day all around the world)
May 23 All 10 arrested are remanded to pre-trial detention. 9 of them are moved from PAZ Rossauerlände in Vienna (a police detention center) to the prison in Wr. Neustadt. The 10th person remains in Innsbruck. 7 of them start a hunger strike.
May 26 Press conference from the solidarity group “Antirep”: The police actions are critizised as arbitrary, illegal and blown out of proportion.
May 28 Some of the prisoners are split up and moved to other prisons because of alleged complicity without any notice given to their lawyers. Two are moved to the prison in Eisenstadt, four to the prison Josefstadt in Vienna, and the prisoner from Innsbruck is transferred to Wr. Neustadt.
June 4 International day of action for the prisoners. According to Amnesty Internationall, the following principles of human rights were violated: commensurability, innocence until proven guilty, reasonable suspicion and the right to a fair trial. The paragraph §278a StGB was created to fight organized crime (mafia-like structures) and is now used to criminalize the animal rights movement.
June 6 Pre-trial detention is prolonged for all 10 prisoners.
July 2 International day of action for the prisoners. Among many other places, protests took place in India, Israel and Sweden.
July 7 The pre-trial detention is prolonged again, even though the gravest accusations (arson, attacks with butyric acid) have been revoked by higher level prosecutors, meaning that the requirements for §278a are not fulfilled.
July 14 Press conference by Peter Pilz: The Green Party is preparing to file charges against investigators.
July 16 Press conference by Antirep: Prolonging of pre-trial detention is coercive detainment.
July 21 “Danger of Destroying Evidence” can no longer apply as a reason for pre- trial detention.
August 13 The activist from Tirol is surprisingly released from pre-trial detention. The prosecution wants to appeal against the release.
September 2 Upper level prosecutors demand the immediate release of the remaining 9 prisoners. All 9 are released.
September 30 House searches against animal rights activists take place.
October 13 A donator to VGT (one of the affected animal rights organizations) is taken by surprise by the police and interrogated without a warrant.
Beginning of 2009 The investigations into on person (A.) are officially dropped.
February 2009 The district court of Wiener Neustadt decides that the VGT must receive at least a copy of two of their harddrives that are important for their work as an NGO. These were confiscated May 21, 2008 and handed back.
February 24 The district court of Wiener Neustadt decides that the continued refusal of access to the investigation files of the criminal police is illegal.
End of April 2009 The police present final investigation reports on up to 40 people. Normally these final reports mean the end of the police investigations. Nevertheless the investigations continue.
June 10 2009 Responding to a request from authorities in Germany the residence of one of the formerly imprisoned activists was searched along with both residences belonging to his parents. One house search was delayed due to an attempted blockade.
August 7 2009 The accused are informed that some charges have been dropped. With this move the prosecutors in Wiener Neustadt were forced to revoke a large part of the original charges.
August 11 2009 The attorneys of the 10 formerly imprisoned activists receive formal charges. Now it is clear: there will be a trial based on the charges of Membership in a Criminal Organisation, the accusations according to §278a remain intact. Investigations into about 20 activists continue.
September 2009 The opening trial date has still not been declared. The defendants file a motion for a
change of location from Wiener Neustadt to Vienna. This motion is denied in November by the Appellate Court in Vienna.
October 2009 Investigations into a judge belonging to the Independent Senate for Administrative Cases (UVS) because she overturned the charges against 4 hunting protestors. Continued investigations into M. Petrovic (from the Green Party). She supposedly gave information about the investigations to the animal rights activists in 2007.
December/January 2010 The opening trial date (March 2, 2010) is made known through the media in mid-December. Further trial dates are made known in January.
01. February 2010 according to the media three more activist will be charged with paragraph 278a on March 2nd.