Austrian Trial Week 7

6/5/10

Solidarity

Two international solidarity actions took place this week. The first was a blockade on the border between the Czech Republic and Austria which got into the main news channels. Protesters were interviewed at length about the case and about the international protest campaign: http://www.shameonaustria.org

The second action was in Stuttgart, Germany: http://www.youtube. com/watch? v=HOwJmAeGLik

Police Security Report

A press conference this week presenting this years terrorism report of 2009 informed media that in 2009 only 3 animal rights related crimes had taken place in Austria. Ministers conclude from this that the leaders of the criminal organisation are the people now standing trial. The report summarizes fully legal activities as being activities of a criminal organisation!

New Court Regulations

Monday morning of week 7. Outside the court building police in full uniform were present. In the court room between 40 and 50 trainee police officers took up seats in the public viewing gallery. Presumably this measure was in response to the last session's disturbances from the public as they expressed their outrage at the disputed testimony given by the prosecution's linguistic expert.

In addition, anyone wanting to observe the proceeding as of Monday must now show ID. This was not the case up until now. Thanks to this surprisingly rapid change in court regulations around 30 animal rights sympathisers didn't get to watch the proceedings, including relatives of the defendants.

A general ban on filming anywhere in the whole court building was also issued this week. Until now it had been possible to film when the court was not in session or outside the courtroom. A film team from the Czech Republic was thrown out of the court for interviewing the defendants as they went into the court room.

Linguistic Statement will not be withdrawn

The judge opened the session by informing the defence that she had dismissed their request for Dr Schweiger's testimony to be withdrawn. The defence had made this request based on a newspaper interview given by Schweiger in which he clearly showed that he was biased against the defendants.

Later in the proceedings the defence again requested that Dr Schweiger's testimony be withdrawn. The defence quoted from a letter written by Dr Schweiger to the prosecution saying that he had been informed of new suspicions by the police and he was working on proving these suspicions. The defence claimed that this was further evidence that this expert witness is not independent. The judge postponed making a decision and instead called for the witnesses for the anti-fur campaigns.

Anti-fur Campaign/ P&C

Managing directors of clothes stores P&C and Fürnkranz were heard. The P&C managing director told the court what he knew about the campaign to stop P&C selling fur. He described the campaign and recognised a few of the defendants from legal demonstrations. Asked to describe their behaviour he said they were friendly and non-violent. He commented on the stone age costume worn by one of the defendants at the weekly demonstrations. He went on to tell the court that P&C opted out of the fur industry in 2006. It had not been his decision, but one that had been taken by their central offices in Germany. He said that the campaign had not affected turnover and he presumed that the decision was out of concern for the personal safety of the owner in Germany. The defence later produced a press release from P&C announcing that they would no longer sell fur. The text included nothing about the anti-fur campaign being the reason.

Anti-fur Campaign/ Fürnkranz

The managing director of Fürnkranz also gave no information that implicated any of the defendants in any offences. He referred to the start of the campaign where he had e-mail contact to one of the defendants which was always polite. The company decided to stop ordering full length fur coats but if a collection happened to include fur trims then the company would have no problem having this in their selection. The manager explained that this decision had nothing to do with the e-mail correspondence, but rather the demand for fur had sunk by 500% because the animal welfare demonstrations had “borne fruit”.

Questions from the defence and the defendants centred around the fact that Four Paws, an animal welfare organisation that is not accused in this trial, have protest actions against this and other fur sellers on their website. In addition defendants were able to demonstrate that the campaigns had not affected the turnover of P&C. The judge attempted to disregard this line of questioning as irrelevant but defence and defendant insisted that it was extremely relevant as the charge of coercion depends on being able to prove that Fürnkranz made this decision due to fear of losing profit like P&C due to the campaign against them. The defendant went on to show that P&C had flourished during the anti-fur campaign and that other stores knew this. Therefore the prosecution's claim that the campaigns constituted threats to the economic well being of the companies is untenable.

Father of Defendant refused Admission to Court Proceedings

On the next day the atmosphere in court was worse than ever. The police trainees were ferried to and from the court by bus making it obvious that their presence there was to prevent animal sympathisers having a seat.

The defence complained to the judge as she opened the session saying that his client's father was unable to watch the proceedings even though there were still some free seats. The judge explained that if people got tickets for seats and then went away, those seats could not be taken by someone else. These were the new regulations. The defence lawyer reminded her that the constitution states that a trial must be open to the public and that the constitution takes president over any court's own regulations. At this point 4 defendants stood up and said that they would leave the court if the people who wanted to take the free seats were not allowed in. Another defendant reminded the court that during the Nazi time it was also common practice to fill up public viewing seats with Nazi officers to create a “desired” atmosphere in the court. The judge stopped proceedings until things had calmed down. When she opened the session again she warned that any more disturbances would result in being removed from the court.

Anti-fur Campaign/ Kleider Bauer

Then she called the managing director from Kleider Bauer as the next witness. He told the court that he had been aware of anti-fur campaigns against other companies. The first time he had heard about a campaign against Kleider Bauer was from the animal welfare organisation Four Paws in 2006. The organisation had approached the company and asked them to sign a letter stating that they would stop selling fur within a set time limit. Should they not wish to sign, then the company would be added to the organisation's black list. He explained that he not only didn't sign the letter but that he also did not even reply to Four Paws. The company had decided not to respond to any approaches from animal organisations. And this was also the case when he later received an e-mail from the defendant Hnat.

At this point one of the defendants complained to the judge that the witness was reading his statements from notes. When being heard in court the speaker is obliged to speak spontaneously and not from prepared notes: Something the judge herself has continued to demand from the defendants. In the case of the prosecution witnesses the defence or the defendants have had to draw the judge's attention to the fact that statements are being read. Instead of responding to this complaint by ensuring that the witness spoke spontaneously, the judge issued the defendant with a warning that they would be expelled from the court room the next time they made such a disturbance.

The defence called for the e-mails to be shown in court as they were not in the files. The judge showed slides of the emails from Four Paws and from Hnat. The witness told the court that he had also received an e-mail from the German anti-fur platform OGPI giving the company a last chance to sign an opt out in the next 3 days before a campaign was started. On the 4th day he received another email from Hnat asking the company to sign an opt out in the next 2 days. The witness told the court that he had not responded to any of these emails. Then on 25 October he received an email from VGT saying that the campaign would begin. In this email that the judge also showed a slide of, it said that “we will make every effort to maintain the possibility for pleasant and constructive talks”.

Demonstrations

The judge asked the witness to describe the demonstrations which followed. He told the court that he knew a lot about these demonstrations because the store managers had been instructed to document them. The demonstrations took place, and continue to take place, in front of around 10 stores throughout the country with about 100 demonstrations a year on Fridays and Saturdays. He showed the court photos taken of the demonstrations in which strings of photos of fur animals hung outside the store and people holding banners and distributing flyers could be seen. The witness claimed that campaigners insulted customers and restricted entrance to the store. Occasionally there are also marches against fur which he also showed photos of.

The judge asked him what happened with the demonstrations after May 2008 (the month of the arrests). He couldn't say exactly, but the demonstrations had already changed. Then he showed the court a letter from a Kleider Bauer employee which stated that the demonstrations were, “on the whole, peaceful”. The defence objected at this point saying that the emails were opinions of other people and not the witness's own opinions. The judge decided that such emails would not be read out in court until they had been more closely examined.

The witness went on to describe to the court how he had attempted to find out if such demonstrations which call for a boycott were in fact legal. He made enquiries at the Federal Police Central Bureau and was told that it would be very difficult to prohibit the demonstrations. Then he obtained a legal examination of the situation from the University's Institute for Constitutional Law which concluded that the demonstrations were unlawful. For a short time in December 2006 the demonstrations were successfully prohibited. P&C immediately contacted Kleider Bauer and asked how they had achieved this. The judge asked him if he had tried to register demonstrations outside the stores to prohibit the campaigners being able to hold the demonstrations. He replied that the campaigners had already pre-registered their demonstrations up to a point far in the future which made such a move impossible.

The witness wanted to read out a further email. The defence asked which email and whether it was in the files. The judge shouted at the defence lawyer that if there were any more disturbances she would hear the witness testify privately. The witness added that the email was from Hnat and had been forwarded to him by an employee. It said that “continuing to sell fur was pointless” and referred to negative press about Kleider Bauer and the fact that Four Paws were also active against the company.

Damage to Property

Then the witness began to tell the court about damage to property against Kleider Bauer. It began with a broken display window at one of the stores on 2nd December 2006. And as “fur is murder” was written on the entrance, it was assumed to be animal rights motivated. The company received an email which said “they should experience the same suffering that the animals are made to suffer”. The judge asked him how he felt on receiving this email. He replied that he had decided to never give in to this pressure. They had then taken successive measures in order to protect the company.

Then a long list of emails were read out which came from Germany. This was not only obvious from the address, but also from the text which read: “particularly you in Austria have got yourselves involved with the wrong people”.

The witness described the second incident of damage to property as “an attack with a weapon”. “According to the police files, this was a hole made with a captive-bolt pistol in a display window” added the judge. Asked whether he knew the amount of the damages he said he didn't know and the judge would have to ask his brother, the second managing director. He was also unable to tell the judge how the insurance company reacted to the incident and instead added that there had also been telephone action days where the customers couldn't get through because the lines were so busy with calls where people could only be heard heavy breathing. The company continues to receive a stream of protest emails to this day.

Other Actions against Kleider Bauer

The witness showed the court a call to action from the PETA Germany website. It encouraged people to contact the company to complain about them selling fur and included the phone number and the address of the company.

There had also been a run-in at one of the stores in Vienna. “Where customers restricted in their movement by this action?” the judge wanted to know and “Was the store closed as a consequence?” The witness said that confetti like bits of paper were thrown in the air and he didn't knew if the store had to be closed or not.

He went on to tell the judge that in January 2007 there was a terrible smell in the store in the city of Graz. “Was the store closed?” asked the judge. “The windows were opened and the fire service used a fan which probably distributed the smell through the whole area” replied the witness. He added that he didn't know whether the store was closed right away, but it was closed for 3 weeks. He added that there had been a further stink bomb let off in a Viennese store and he didn't know whether merchandise had been damaged, but it had been decided to close the store any way for other reasons.

The judge asked him if there had been contact with the campaigners at the beginning of 2007. The witness answered that there had been one sided contact. On 6th March 2007 PETA Germany had written to Kleider Bauer with an offer of talks with the aim of coming to an agreement. PETA would make sure that the campaign ceased if they could reach an agreement. The witness went on to say that the company did not respond and that in the week before his car had been damaged. He told the judge that he saw a connection between these two events. He also spoke of a demonstration in front of his home in April 2007.

Fur Sales equal less than 1% of Turnover

The judge wanted to know what percentage the sale of fur made in the company's turnover. He replied that in relation to all clothing sold by the company, it made up far less than 1%. Then she asked him whether Kleider Bauer had ever stopped selling fur. “No” said the witness “The customers expect fur”. “Is it really profitable enough?” asked the judge. “That doesn't matter” said the managing director “This campaign would make him hang up even the last fur coat in the window”. “Had the demonstrations affected turnover?” the judge now wanted to know. “On demonstration days turnover was less” he replied.

Now the prosecution asked the witness if he had noticed an increase in the intensity of the campaign as it went on. The witness replied that he was reminded of the Sicilian Mafia “First of all you are given a text to sign and if you don't there are problems”. “Had there been further incidents of damage to property since the arrests in May 2008” asked the prosecution. “Yes, on the first day of the trial. One window had been smashed and two scratched.”

Contact to Head of Police

Now the defence questioned the witness. It was established that the witness had contacted the police in April 2007 following damage to his car. He had phoned the Minister for the Interior and on the next day he was invited to a meeting in the ministry with the president of the police force. “There are cases of damage to property all the time, especially in Vienna. Why was it that in this case the president of the police force himself was almost immediately involved?” a defence lawyer asked as he produced the minutes of the meeting to show the court.

At this point the judge intervened, asking him what is was supposed to prove.

“The minutes from this meeting prove that the police saw no connection between the offences and the demonstrations” said the defence. The judge wanted to see the minutes and she read aloud that this indeed was the case. She also read out from the minutes that media relations for Kleider Bauer would be taken over by the police and that the demonstrations should, if possible, be prohibited.

The witness went on to explain that he had some of his employees put a file together for the meeting. It included information on different animal organisations and facts taken from the internet. After presenting this file at the meeting he was told by the police that something would be done.

The judge wanted to know whether he was aware at this time that the police saw no connection between the offences and the demonstrations. He was not present at the meeting when this was said, he replied. The prosecution added at this point that at this time no judicial inquiries had been made by the Wiener Neustadt Prosecution Service. A defendant commented that although this was the case the Viennese Prosecution Service had long been investigating at the time of the meeting.

The defence went on to demonstrate a number of inconsistencies between what the witness had told police and what was stated in the documents and what was in the prosecution files. This was followed by long questioning between the defence, the judge and the witness about the insurance claim process which took place after the stink bomb incidents.

Knowledge of P&C's Economic Success

The defence then proceeded to demonstrate through the use of specialist trade journals for the textile industry and media reports that it was highly likely that the witness would have known about the P&C's economic success despite anti-fur campaigning. The judge asked the prosecution if he would like to add anything, to which he replied “no comment”. Then the judge announced, in contrast to her previous comments on the matter, that P&C's economic development was so important that she would arrange to have official documents of her own to examine.

The session ended with the witness informing one of the defence lawyers that Kleider Bauer would be suing him, his client Dr Balluch and a website for slander on account of an interview given by the lawyer, claiming damages of 30.000 Euro from each.

The anti-fur campaign against Kleider Bauer is set to be the continued focus of next week's court dates.

http://www.vgt.at/presse/news/2010/news20100506m_en.php

 

Related Articles:

From Dusk 'til Dawn
An Insider's View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement

© Keith Mann
puppypincher@yahoo.co.uk