Austrian animal rights campaigner has passed the seventh day of a hunger
strike in protest at draconian arrests by the authorities. Dr Martin Balluch
was one of ten people arrested after twenty-four homes and offices of animal
welfare activists and organisations were raided by the elite WEGA police
force at 6.15 a.m. on Wednesday 21st May. Seven of the campaigners are now
on hunger strike. The police action appears to have been prompted by anti-fur
protests but after a week no charges have been brought.
Balluch, managing director of the VGT (Association against Animal Factories)
and brother of Martin, described the scene in his flat. “I awoke to
the sound of the door being broken in, immediately a group of armed and
masked people surrounded my bed where my girlfriend and I were sleeping
and aimed their weapons at us. They screamed at me that they would shoot
me if I moved. We have two elderly rescued dogs, who were brutally manhandled.
As you can imagine, all four of us were absolutely terrified.”
representing the ten campaigners have issued formal complaints against the
police concerning a string of human rights violations. These include detention
without being charged for all those on remand, unnecessary force used by
the police during the house raids and DNA samples being taken from two of
the detainees against their will using force.
who is the President of VGT, was only allowed a visit for the first time
by his family and girlfriend on 27th May and they were horrified at his
weak condition. Martin said, “After so many days without food I feel
very weak. If I move quickly, then everything revolves. But I still have
confidence in the rule of law in this country, that we here in Austria cannot
be treated in this way without good reason. And that's why I will continue
on hunger strike until I am either given a reason or released”.
protection movement in Austria has at the same time been a thorn in the
side of influential people for several years and an example to the rest
of the world of progressive law changes to the benefit of animals. Achieving
bans on fur farming, wild animals in circuses, battery cages and caged rabbit
farming campaigners have shown what is possible. Martin Balluch has led
a series of high-profile inspections into the conditions of pig production,
resulting in public outrage against farmers and the fear of legal improvements.
He has also provoked international interest last year by bringing a legal
case to establish a chimp as a person in Austrian law so that a legal guardian
could be established. An English woman living in Vienna , Paula Stibbe,
has been proposed as the guardian for the chimp, called Matthew, whose sanctuary
has been under threat of closure.
a successful four-year anti-fur campaign against the clothes retailer P&C
a further street campaign, showing footage of conditions for animals on
fur farms to shoppers, began two years ago against the chain store Kleider
Bauer, the only Austrian department store still to sell fur. There have
been accusations of arson, smashing windows and spray-painting and the authorities
claim that the protestors belong to a criminal organization responsible
for these actions. Harald Balluch distances himself and the VGT from any
illegal activities. “This police action is designed to discredit the
work being done for animals. The intention is to damage the reputation of
animal campaigners and campaign work. Through the police raids our office,
along with four others, has been brought to a stand still. Our computers
with our complete data bank have been taken along with all our mobile phones
and years of research material. We have no possibility of contacting our
supporters. Our phone and fax lines were also out of order for sometime
after the raid making contact with media impossible.”
Green Party has criticized the Crown Prosecution Service for withholding
documents from lawyers whilst the detainees continue with their hunger strike.
Brigid Weinzinger, the Spokesperson for Animal Welfare, said, “Unless
the Crown Prosecution Service has concrete charges that they can bring against
the detainees, their detention on remand is clearly unlawful. It is prohibited
by law to keep a person locked up on remand as an attempt to discredit legal
animal welfare campaigning, or because the legal campaigning on behalf of
animals causes some politicians discomfort. Withholding documents from the
detainees' lawyers is a deliberate attempt to prevent them from being properly
defended. This constitutes a massive infringement to their rights.”
in solidarity with the protestors have been taking place in Vienna , Wiener
Neustadt, Graz , Bregenz , Hamburg , Berlin , Stockholm , Munich and Salzburg.