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.
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.
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
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.
questioning of DDr Balluch
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.
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.
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.
Defence of Animals
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
with an invited SHAC speaker did take place in the VGT office, but the talk
was about legal campaigning.
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.
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
people up overnight
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
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.
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.
liberation workshops http://www.animal-liberation.at
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
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.
Rights Radio show
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.
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
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!
of Mag. Felix Hnat begins
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”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
questioning will continue next week.