Animal Protection Trial – Week 2 in a nut shell

13/3/10

Most of this week saw DDr Balluch being questioned. His questioning was concluded by him stating that the only accusations against him have been discussing and expressing opinions and taking part in NGO legitimate i.e., non-criminal activities. He has no intention of refraining from either.

On Thursday 11 March questioning began of Mag. Felix Hnat, head of the Austrian Vegan Society. The accusations against him consist of fully NGO compatible activities which the prosecution attempts to connect to animal rights related crimes. His questioning will continue on Monday 15 March.

The judge continues to disrupt defendants and defence lawyers and not let them finish speaking. The judge also repeatedly quoted from faulty translated documents presented by the prosecution despite being informed of incorrect translations.

No laptops allowed

Proceedings began this week on Monday 8 March with the judge announcing that the defendants are not permitted to use laptops in the court room on account that they shouldn't be able to communicate with each other during proceedings. This, despite several appeals from the defence lawyers that the defendants, not only the prosecutor and judge need access to the files in order to defend themselves and that it would be possible to supply laptops where communication to each other would be impossible. The judge said that it was enough that the defence lawyers have been allowed laptops in the court room and that this was an exception. The defence argued that the files consist of 200,000 pages and as a number of the defendants were charged only two weeks before the case opened, access to the files in court is vital for defendants and defence. As a consequence of her decision, defendants arrived in the court room with the files contained in countless cardboard boxes.

Continued questioning of DDr Balluch

DDr Balluch was questioned extensively about contact to animal rights activists abroad, some of whom have been found guilty of animal rights related crimes in the past. He stated that over the years it is the case that animal rights activists meet each other during legal actions such as demonstrations and hunt sabbing. He also has contact to activists in a journalistic capacity. Asked why he wrote to people serving prison sentences for animal rights related crimes he said that knowing that being in prison can be an isolating experience he chooses to write letters to give psychological support regardless of what crime may have been committed. He further stated that for a long time he wrote to an inmate on death row for the same reason.

E-mails

Evidence in defence of Balluch included e-mails documenting bitter disputes between many of the defendants and Balluch, showing that any suggestion that they work together as a criminal operation is clearly not the case.

Balluch was able to demonstrate to the court how, once content from e-mails used as accusations against him was put back into its original context, it could be seen that there was nothing suspicious to be found.

In Defence of Animals

The book “In defence of animals”, in which Balluch was invited by Peter Singer to contribute a chapter, was used to show that Balluch calls for legal confrontational campaigning methods including civil disobedience as he argues that this has more impact on changing the situation for animals than acts of damage to property. To this the judge replied that Balluch knew at this time that he was under police observation and that should account for the opinion expressed. Quite an imaginative explanation given that the book is in English and written for an animal rights activist audience.

Open rescue

Balluch pointed to an open rescue of 7 battery hens in Austria where he was charged and found not guilty of any crime as his actions had been in the interest of the public good.

More e-mails

Further evidence was brought by the prosecution, as ever, in the form of e-mail correspondence. The content was either distributing information on up-coming legal activities or reporting on recent ones.

Evidence other than e-mails took the form of photos taken at an animal rights conference held in Austria in 2004. In the photos it was just about possible to see several of the defendants. The prosecution argued that these photos prove cooperation between the defendants. However Balluch explained that the conference was organised by a committee consisting of 30 people and there was a general consensus that anyone wanting to give a talk or hold a workshop should be given a slot during the conference.

Balluch was asked why he had e-mail contact with activists were he suggested helping with witness statements concerning civil charges resulting from campaign actions such as hunt sabbing. He said it was important to give activists this support and it also saves the NGO money by not having to consult a lawyer.

SHAC campaign

A major part of the questioning involved making a connection between the SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) campaign and the defendant. Asked to describe the campaign Balluch replied that it is against Europe's biggest commercial animal testing lab with mainly legal actions in over 100 countries. Balluch added that it is completely normal in the movement to distribute information about legal SHAC actions, including asking for people to attend, although in the case of SHAC he has not made such a request.

A talk with an invited SHAC speaker did take place in the VGT office, but the talk was about legal campaigning.

Factory farm investigations

Asked about a skeleton key found in the VGT office and asked by the judge if he wouldn't find it questionable breaking into, for example, a flat, even if there was no damage done, Balluch replied that entering and filming in a flat is not the same as entering a factory farm and documenting conditions there in order to inform the public.

Run-ins

Balluch was asked to describe what a run-in is and asked if he had taken part in one. He explained that a run-in is an unregistered demonstration where together with invited journalists, activists stage a spontaneous demonstration inside a store, and yes he had participated in one where activists wearing fur covered with red paint drew attention to the sale of animal fur inside a store.

Putting people up overnight

The judge enquired whether it was normal to let activists from abroad stay overnight. Balluch explained that this was indeed normal in the animal rights movement, so normal in fact that it had a name: animal rights tourism. Activists travelling around often contact activists of a certain country or city and ask if they can stay. Such people then take part in legal campaign activities during their stay.

Asked about some hand written notes produced by the prosecution, Balluch answered that they were notes for a talk that he had been invited to give at the University's law faculty to a group of law students.

PC encrypting

The prosecution accuses Balluch of encrypting his private PC and those of the VGT as well as recommending others to do the same. Balluch explained that after police broke into the VGT office and took all the encrypted computers, they were unable to break into them until they found an unencrypted back-up. However, they found nothing incriminating. At this point a defence lawyer presented a statement from the Secretary General of Amnesty International detailing how Amnesty have all their PCs encrypted. He also produced evidence that the Viennese Chamber of Commerce recommends encryption and anonymous internet surfing and even provides free software to do this.

Animal liberation workshops http://www.animal-liberation.at

Balluch explained the nature of these yearly workshops is to bring people who are concerned about the treatment of animals into contact with the movement. The workshops are free and open to anyone. Participants learn about exclusively legal campaigning including such aspects as how to register an information table.

There have also been animal rights gatherings, which are not open to the public, where different aspects of animal rights are discussed and non-criminal civil disobedience methods are practised.

Animal Rights Radio show

Asked whether reporting acts of damage to property in the weekly Animal Rights Radio show might not motivate listeners to go out and do the same, Balluch replied that if that were the case, it would never be possible for any media to report, for example, murder.

Holland

The prosecution claimed that Balluch had given a talk on the ALF at an animal rights gathering in Holland in 2007. In reply Balluch produced an e-mail listing all talks from Austria at the gathering and none of them fitted this description.

Kindergarten

At this point in the proceedings a member of the public informed the judge that she couldn't see the projected e-mail clearly. The judge answered that it was like being in a kindergarten!

Questioning of Mag. Felix Hnat begins

On the following and last day of this week in court the judge opened the proceedings by announcing two reports of illegal activity carried out since the beginning of the trial. One was the smashing of Kleider Bauer shop windows and the other, a banner which was hung by the side of the motorway leading into the city which read “If you criminalise us, we will become criminals”

It was unclear what the judge intended with this announcement, when asked by one of the defence lawyers she said that the police see a connection between these events and the criminal organisation.

The next defendant to be questioned was the head of the Austrian Vegan Society, Mag. Felix Hnat. Hnat told the judge that almost all his work is for the Austrian Vegan Society. As one of 18,000 members of VGT, he occasionally supports VGT demonstrations on a voluntary basis. He is 100% certain that no criminal animal rights organisation exists.

E-mails

Hnat was asked to comment on quotes taken from e-mails written by him. He was able to produce a number of the e-mails in their entirety and proceeded to demonstrate to the judge that in their original context the quotes prove harmless. For other e-mail quotes Hnat requested that the court see the full e-mails as the quotes alone had been selected to cast him in a negative light. On hearing this, the judge warned Hnat that he should be careful that he doesn't sound like he is suggesting that the police have lied. At this two of the defendants and one of the defence lawyers jumped up simultaneously and offered evidence that indeed the police have lied!

Anti fur campaigning

Asked about the Kleider Bauer anti fur campaign Hnat informed the judge that the campaign was to convince customers and not to commit damage to property.

Hnat is accused of coercion by sending letters to clothing companies threatening them in order that they stop selling fur. Hnat countered this saying that he couldn't understand how the contact he had had with the companies could be described as coercion. All communication from him was polite and conformed to the typical NGO way of conducting such campaigns i.e., the company is informed that continuing to sell fur will result in a campaign against them. In this case, demonstrations outside their stores. Hnat added that all the e-mails were openly sent from the VGT address.

The judge read out a list of damage to property offences connected to the anti fur P&C campaign, Hnat commented that virtually all the incidences had taken place outside Austria and he didn't know about them. He added that the Austrian animal welfare organisation Four Paws also had the fact the P&C had opted out of selling fur as a their success on their website.

Hnat's questioning will continue next week.

 

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© Keith Mann
puppypincher@yahoo.co.uk