First Day of my Case Claiming Compensation from the Animal Rights Trial

Translated from Martin Balluch’s blog: http://www.martinballuch.com/erster-tag-meines-schadensersatzprozesses-zur-tierschutzcausa/

Three lawyers sit on the other side. One representing the Republic of Austria and the other two representing the bosses of the police special operations unit from the animal rights trial.

The judge says that first of all it must be clarified whether the period in which it is possible to claim for compensation has expired, as argued by the Republic. This is what she intends to deal with today. Then, without further court dates, she will give a verdict, maybe in September. This verdict can be appealed up to the level of the Supreme Court. So, nothing will happen for one year (!), and that’s if the case is accepted. If the case isn’t accepted I will have to pay €60,000 (!) for today’s court date to add to my existing debts from the animal rights trial. This sum is the costs for all the lawyers and the judge. This monstrous amount of money is on account of the high sum being claimed.

How can my claim for compensation be expired? The time limit to officially file for damages is three years. The first time we got hold of the infiltration reports was on 2nd December 2010. It was only then that we realised just how exonerating they were. On 2nd May 2011 I was acquitted. It was only at this point that damages were incurred. Without an acquittal it is not possible to make a claim for damages. My acquittal became final on 1st July 2012. I started legal proceedings at the beginning of April 2013.

The Republic says we should have had the infiltrator’s reports from the police before. Of course, we had tried to get them, but we had to employ a private detective to uncover the presence of “Danielle Durand” the infiltraor. Month after month and year after year I tried again and again to get access to the case files from the police. Time and time again I was turned down and given excuses for why it wasn’t possible. Three times I brought the police special unit to court over this and three times they lost. The verdict each time being that they must grant me access. And despite all this, they still didn’t manage to.

Nevertheless, the Republic remains insistent that it’s my own fault and now it’s too late to claim for damages.

According to the Republic, I should have filed a claim for damages during the criminal trial against me. But, what would that have meant? Firstly, the damages were not a given at that time. Secondly, in a civil case I would have been obliged to answer all questions truthful, but in a criminal case I have rights which make it possible for me as a defendant to lie or avoid questioning. So it is not possible from a criminal law point of view to be party in a civil and criminal case dealing with the same issue simultaneously without losing rights as a defendant.

Thirdly, how should I have brought charges without having seen the infiltrator’s reports and without being aware that the special unit would use the trick of withholding them because they were exonerating evidence?

Now we can only wait for a verdict and should the green light come, start the case. This is a saga with out end!

Thumbs up!

Here are two very happy men, fresh out of the courtroom.

Felix is on the left with his amazing lawyer Stefan, who has worked so hard from the very beginning to achieve this result.

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In a few days time it will no longer be possible for the state to appeal yesterday’s verdict and it will all be over!

Felix – Full acquittal in all counts!

At around 14:00 on the first day the judge unexpectedly ended the planned 2 day trial after passing a not guilty verdict in all counts. In the morning the coercion charge was dealt with and the two owners of Kleider Bauer were called as witnesses. Then in the early afternoon the judge ended the trial saying it was unnecessary to hear any more witnesses. The prosecution complained but to no avail and after a short recess he gave his verdict:

  • The emails were not grounds enough to give rise to concern as the protest announced in them was legal.
  • Had there been previous dealings between the managing directors, brothers Peter and Werner Graf and Felix they could have felt threatened – but this was not the case.
  • The documented evidence from the first trial shows that the managing directors described the campaign only as a nuisance and nothing of criminal relevance could be attributed to Felix. Management made the connection between other anti fur protests and criminal damage much later, after the emails showing that they didn’t feel threatened.
  • Although it was possible that some customers were made to feel uncomfortable by the demos, this was not proof that the campaign had the intention of damaging business. The campaign didn’t directly influence business and campaigners cannot threaten, they can only warn.
  • To find someone guilty of criminal coercion it is necessary to establish that there was a concrete financial threat. This couldn’t have been the case because if the brothers Graf had really felt the campaign was impacting their turnover they would have found the energy to report this to the authorities. They didn’t do this despite claiming that there had been massive loss of turnover. This suggests that there was in fact no loss and therefore nothing to feel threatened by.

This is it folks!

Tuesday 27.5 and Wednesday 28.5 are the final retrial dates. Now it’s all about Felix Hnat and the charges against him of coercion, criminal damage and obstructing the police. Felix, like the others in the original trial, was fully acquitted in the first trial.

Tomorrow Felix will be tried for coercion  As part of a campaign to stop clothing store Kleider bauer selling fur, Felix was the person who attempted to communicate with the management. He sent polite emails asking them to talk with us, to allow us to show them why fur is a problem, to try and find a solution without having demos outside the stores. He informed them about other companies who had stopped selling fur and who were consequently being promoted by animal organisations  on their ‘fur free’ lists. He also informed them that there would be awareness raising demos outside the stores to inform the public about the company’s involvement with the fur trade should they fail to agree to opt out of the trade. These attempts to make contact were ignored and the resulting awareness raising demos continue to this day. This email correspondence forms the basis for the charge against Felix of coercion.

Anyone familiar with NGO work will recognise this as classic campaigning.  The supposed  ‘threat’ was the commencement of legal demonstrations registered with the police. The prosecution will no doubt try to argue that the demos could result in loss of earnings amounting to economic damage. But how can it be loss if the sales were not actually made?  And furthermore, taken seriously, this argument could also be applied to competitors. The prosecution’s attempt to criminalise this strategy is similar to their misuse of anti-Mafia laws in the first instance. For more detailed criticism of the coercion charge see this post:

http://www.shameonaustria.org/2014/02/21/law-professors-strong-criticism-of-court-decision-to-proceed-with-retrial/

For those who don’t know, Felix is the head of the Austrian Vegan Society. Here he is straight after the aquittal at the first trial. We look forward to taking another thumbs up picture tomorrow!

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Second Retrial – Not guilty!

The second retrial took place today with three activists charged with coercion. Judge Csarmann, again, found all three not guilty!

The charges were based on 2 separate events. The first being a demonstration outside the main offices of the clothing store ‘Kleider Bauer’ where the spokesperson for the company was allegedly handed a leaflet and was then later surrounded by demonstrators while she was in her car. Her statement claims that the accused were verbally and physically threatening her in that they were yelling and beating their fists on the car, preventing her from driving off. Indeed, police took finger prints from the car and these matched those of the accused.

The judge heard the defence and the accused and made his verdict of not guilty based on there not being evidence for the charge. It was clear that the spokesperson had driven her car into the demonstrators. Although the finger prints of the accused had been identified, there was no damage found to the car, so the finger prints and shouting were consistent with someone driving a car into a lawful demonstration. In addition, the spokesperson had not wanted to press charges herself, but was ‘encouraged’ to do so by her boss and owner of Kleider Bauer, who has been proven to have personal links high up in the special police unit investigating the animal rights activists.
Indeed, the spokesperson had not even showed up in court today, despite being called as a witness.

The second event involved one of the accused giving a speech which, according to the prosecution, amounted to coercion at a Escada annual general meeting in Germany in 2007. As a share holder, the activist was on the agenda to give a short speech on behalf of a coalition of animal rights groups against fur (OGPI) and this she did. She used the opportunity to dissuade the company from selling fur, saying that there would be a campaign against the company if they continued and she went on to describe similar campaigns against other stores that had sold fur and how their sales and image had been affected until they had eventually opted out of the fur trade. She went on to say that she wouldn’t rule out that such a campaign would have the same effect on Escada. This last point was seized upon by the prosecution to base the charge of coercion on, claiming that this was tantamount to a direct threat to the business.

As an aside, in the original charge, the prosecution had described the events as though the defendant had deliberately disrupted the meeting, failing to mention that she was fully entitled to speak at the AGM. Indeed, she was able to describe to the judge today how the other shareholders present had been very interested in what she was saying and listening intently. Only the board of directors had seemed ill at ease.

Again, after listening to defence and the defendant, the judge, without calling any witnesses, announced a not guilty verdict saying that the campaign referred to at the AGM by the defendant  was fully legal, even if such a campaign included home visits, which maybe uncomfortable, but still a part of a democracy. He went on to to say that any loss in sales as a result of a legal campaign cannot, under any circumstances, be considered criminal.  Finally the judge, possibly being the first judge in history to do so, explained the the coalition group OGPI was not the ALF. He described the ALF as an ideology with no membership, no structure or chain of command. Therefore, the defendant (or anyone else for that matter) could not be responsible for any individuals should they decide to carry out criminal damage aimed at the campaign’s target as this was completely outside her control.

 

What the Papers say…

The papers reported very positively on the story of the not guilty verdict of animal cruelty from the first retrial court date yesterday.

heute

It was particularly heartening that this particular paper more or less paid homage to the activist, describing him a ‘Top Animal Campaigner’ and giving a biography of his animal rights achievements. The piece then went on to outline how the state and the justice system have broken him in every sense of the word and how he now, after being financially ruined, works at an animal sanctuary. The piece made the point very clearly that the death of the pigs was a result of appalling conditions on the pig farm.

First Retrial – Not Guilty Verdict

The first of the 3 retrials took place today and the judge gave the verdict of not guilty to the activist, accused of animal cruelty and criminal damage for allegedly releasing pigs from a pig barn into a meadow.

The prosecution could forget their original dream of € 5000 damages as the judge quickly established that there had been no damage done and that indeed, the three dead pigs, used as grounds for the charge of cruelty,  were already dead as a result of the dismal conditions on the farm.

This seems to be a newish tactic form those supporting animal abuse, namely to accuse animal activists of cruelty. It is reassuring to see that some judges are able to see this for the low down trick it is, but it is also  frustrating because of the way reports to the police of animal welfare laws being broken are consistently ignored.

Today’s result gives us some hope that the justice system in Austria can function correctly, but of course, does not make up for the damage and trauma caused to the accused. We look forward to this continued civilised approach for the remaining two retrials.

 

Run up to the first retrial

Supporters of those facing the retrials due to start next week (13.05) have been busy this week reminding people just what a scandal these proceedings are.

In a ‘bloody’ protest against the retrials, activists reconstructed instances were wounds and injuries have been inflicted on activists participating in peaceful protests against animal cruelty. Many of these incidents saw the activists being hospitalised, but none of them have resulted in any prosecution of those animal abusers inflicting the injuries. In contrast, activists will go on trial next week charged with coercion for announcing demonstrations in front of a shop selling fur.

Examples include song-bird hunters breaking an activist’s arm, a conservative agricultural minister punching an activist in the face and circus workers attacking activists who were distributing leaflets outside the circus with iron bars.

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Often these injuries are a result of activists exposing  illegal abuse of animals where the the state has repeatedly refused to press charges and failed to execute and enforce the law.

The retelling of these stories serves to show how unjust the state’s treatment of activists is in contrast to those in the business of using animals.

This week also saw a press conference take place where the defendants and their lawyers outlined the events that led up to the currents situation and were able to answer questions from the press.

 

 

Trial Dates Announced

The dates have been set for the retrial of 5 from 13 of the original activists tried and found not guilty of being members of a criminal organisation.

13.5 – Juergen Faulmann, charged with animal cruelty for allegedly liberating pigs into a meadow.
19.5 – Three activists from the animal rights group BAT, charged with coercion.
27.5  and 28.5 – Felix Hnat, charged with coercion for announcing a legal anti-fur campaign, disrupting a fur fashion show and criminal damage for breaking a toilet window at an anti-nazi demo.

More to follow

New Wave of Self Indictments – Add your Voice

In the run up to the retrial of 5 people from the first animal protection trial on charges of criminal coercion, the prosecution office dropped 3000 cases of self indictments from individuals pointing out that they too, had carried out the same actions as the 5 due to stand trial. The prosecution claimed that the self indictments were not meant seriously. Now, there is a new wave of self indictments.

This week, individuals have started sending letters to fur selling clothing company Sports Eybl with exactly the same wording as the emails originally sent to notify another company of a campaign against them should they decide not to opt out of the fur trade. In addition they are sending a letter to the state prosecutor drawing attention to the fact that the circumstances are the same and asking for the legality of their actions to be assessed.

One of the first people to send off their self indictment had the following to say:

“I’m writing to Eybl to inform them about a campaign against them unless they stop selling fur because there’s no place for fur in a country which has animal protection in its constitution. There is no such thing as humane fur. These kind of campaigns are run by NGOs all over the world. How should consumers exercise their right to choose what to buy unless they have access to information about products? Companies are not going to show customers how animals are kept and killed for their fur so it’s up to pressure groups to use their civil rights to run awareness raising campaigns. Its only fair to contact companies first to give them the option to change their fur policy up front.
I’m informing the prosecutor’s office about my letter because this is no more or less than the people facing trial have done. How can it be illegal to notify a company that you are going to do something that is perfectly legal?  Either they put all of us on trial or none of us.”

The letter to sports Eybl and the self indictment letter to the prosecution can be found in English at:

http://vgt.at/actionalert/selbstanzeige/self-indict2-en.htm