a week's break for Easter this week saw two days in court with the further
questioning of 13th defendant Harald Balluch, VGT's office manager and on
the following day Bettina Bogner, the head of the special commission responsible
for the police investigations
it was difficult to find any criminal connection to what the 13th defendant
had to say and, again, as usual, questioning was based around typical NGO
work and email content. Much court time was taken up by a dog called Otto
and whether taking him for a walk provides evidence of a criminal organisation
– more about Otto below!
the international protest
protest website is now up and running, giving people the chance to send
protest emails to the Austrian political party leaders. The website has
been translated into over 20 languages allowing people from all over the
world to read in detail about this extraordinary trial.
the judge really unbiased?
feature of this trial is that there is no jury, the verdict depends upon
one person alone: The independent judge. The interest in her neutrality
is therefore perfectly understandable. Just how independent is she? The
consensus among court observers is certainly that she is not independent,
they say that this is clear in her behaviour towards the defendants. This
week alone she told the defendants to shut their mouths as they pointed
out that Bettina Bogner was reading from prepared papers in answer to questions
put to her, whereas this was something that the judge had ordered the defendants
not to do.
the following website for the Wiener Neustadt police sports club for target
practice reveals that she not only financially supports the club but is
also active in the club taking part in shooting competitions:
whole court was left speechless this week as the judge commented that the
case will go to appeal anyway. When she realised that everyone interpreted
her comment as meaning that she would pass a guilty verdict she quickly
added that of course both sides could appeal.
– the missing link?
aim of the prosecution is to show that the two animal rights groups VGT
and BAT, represented by the defendants, cooperate with each other. Truth
is though that there has been an ongoing feud between the groups for years
and that any ideas of cooperation have long since been given up. However,
Harald Balluch's girlfriend is a dog trainer and knows some of the BAT defendants
because they all are involved with the local dog shelter. One of them has
a companion dog called Otto, who has a lot of behavioural problems. This
particular defendant sometimes goes away and arranges with Harald Balluch's
girlfriend that she will look after Otto. This she duly does, except on
a few occasions when she is pushed for time and she asks Harald to take
Otto for a walk and once she asked him to stay with Otto at the other defendants
house to look after him in this defendants absence. Because he was being
observed by the police, taking care of Otto meant that Harald Balluch could
be reported as having been in the BAT defendant's flat on one occasion and
that they had made 2 telephone calls and 2 text messages to each other on
the topic as well.
judge said to Balluch disbelievingly “So, even though there is tension
between VGT and BAT you still looked after Otto?” “I did it
for Otto and to help my girlfriend out, not for the BAT defendant. I don't
have a problem with Otto, only with BAT.” replied Balluch.
judge wanted to know about emails where the prosecution claim that Harald
Balluch told others to lie in court. Harald Balluch produced this particular
email and explained to the judge that the prosecution had misquoted the
email. The email shows a completely different story. Balluch was telling
other people not to write things on the website, even if they are true,
but if they sound unbelievable, because then VGT might be sued for libel.
Only the truth that is, in addition, believable and can be proven, can be
safely written on the website. So, the email was neither about lies nor
about how to present yourself before a court, but about what to put on a
The judge also referred to an email from an open forum called Animal Rights
News that was on the VGT server which contained instructions on how to carry
out damage to property and arson. She said she didn't want to be responsible
for showing this email and so it was not projected onto the wall for the
court to see. She wanted Balluch to account for why such an email could
be forwarded by the VGT server. Balluch explained that as an open forum
anyone could post anything onto Animal Rights News. A VGT employee was signed
up to this forum which meant that he and all others, who had signed up to
the forum, receive each and every email posted on the forum in their in-boxes.
This particular email, along with thousands of other emails from the same
forum, could be found, unread, in a separate file called Animal Rights News
in this VGT employee's email account on the VGT server. The fact that this
particular email was unread, i.e., the subject line was still in bold, meant
that the employee had not found the email interesting. “yes, but why
would VGT want to forward such an email?” asked the judge once again.
Obviously she was having difficulty understanding this standard form of
internet communication. Balluch patiently went through it once again, stressing
to make clear that VGT had not forwarded the email. In fact, he had nothing
to do with the email list, but he was only responsible for the email server,
which in this case was as if he was only responsible for the post office
that put the mail in a letter box. You cannot hold neither the post office
nor the receiver of an unsolicited mail by an unknown person responsible
for ist content.
judge wanted to know why VGT had decided to buy 10 pay-as-you-go mobile
phones and referred to telephone conversations and emails between VGT defendants
where the purchase was discussed. Harald Balluch showed in the minutes of
a VGT committee meeting how the committee had wanted to buy walkie-talkies
for hunt protests but because activists are often spread out over larger
distances during such protests the walkie-talkies were unable to reach far
enough and so it was decided to buy mobiles instead.
website in English
was there an English translation of the VGT website, was the judge's next
question. Harald Balluch explained that it was completely normal for organisations
to have an English version of their website online. “Can anyone read
this?” asked the judge, insinuating that it had something to do with
contact to English extremists. “Yes” replied Balluch “You
just go onto the website and click on the English flag”.
by the judge if he had undertaken research to find out whether the clothing
store Peek and Cloppenberg were selling animal fur Balluch answered no.
He went on to say that he was only in their store once and had photographed
the fur items on sale and bought two jackets with a fur trim to have them
genetically analysed in order to establish which animals had been used.
The reason for this was because the store had wanted to bring VGT to court
because PETA Germany had claimed that Peek and Cloppenberg Germany were
selling fur from dogs and VGT had reported on this on their website. It
turned out that the fur was from rabbits. Balluch added that this had been
done at the request of the VGT committee.
of the investigations, Bettina Bogner
the evidence she gave, it transpired that the special commission had spies
in VGT and BAT, but not for long. She said that they were taken out of the
groups because of poor results. She claimed that the poor results are reflective
of the conspirative structure of the groups. She went on to say that the
fact that so many of the cases of damage to property had not been solved
was because the absence of any forensic evidence from the crime scenes was
a sign that the culprits really knew what they were doing. It also came
to light that the police had a paid informer in the animal rights scene,
but this line of investigation too was terminated because the information
was of no use.