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

 

Three Thousand Self Indictments Dropped

The Austrian Senior Public Prosecutor’s Office has responded to 3000 cases of self indictment saying that it finds them to be lacking in ‘seriousness’ regarding the announcement of a campaign against sports store EYBL and therefore, no proceedings will be started.

Their response is despite the fact that the campaign is already in full swing!

In an historic act of solidarity last year, over 3000 people sent a voluntary disclosure or self indictment to the Austrian prosecutor’s office stating they they too were just as ‘guilty’ as the five individuals due to be retried in the second animal protection trial at the beginning of April this year. The 3000 people had put together an email to the company EYBL in which they announced the commencement of a campaign should the company fail to make a statement saying they would stop selling fur. This campaign would run exactly along the lines of the campaign against the company Kleider Bauer. Now, the senior prosecutor’s office has closed each of the 3000 files without carrying out any investigations. According to them, the company’s management had no cause for concern because the email had been worded in such a way as to lead them to believe that the self indictments were intended as a protest against the judiciary and not with the intention to really start a campaign against EYBL.

One of the 3000, VGT’s Martin Balluch, had the following to say:

The senior prosecutor’s office doubts the seriousness of our self indictments, but the fact is that the campaign is already in full swing! There have been demonstrations since December 2013 and many in-store actions took place over the Christmas period in EYBL branches throughout Austria. In addition to this, thousands of people are being informed about EYBL’s questionable business practices via posters, leaflets and electronic media. All this leads to people deciding not to shop at EYBL. These circumstances are exactly the same as those in the charge of serious coercion in the upcoming retrial.

This action is not at all directed at the judiciary, rather at the threat to democracy. According to the expert report from Professor Petra Velten, using a hard but legal campaign to force a company into not selling fur by informing and influencing customers can be seen as a ‘dangerous threat’ (defined in the law as not being automatically criminal)  but not as criminal coercion. In the second wave of self indictments we will draw the senior prosecutor’s office’s attention to their mistaken interpretation of our intention. This time we will make our demand that EYBL pull out of the fur trade clear in exactly the same way as the emails cited in the retrial do. Then we will see in what other ways the circumstances can be construed differently. Either that, or thousands of people will end up in court!

Law Professor Petra Velten’s strong Criticism of Court Decision to proceed with Retrial

The retrial of five of the original defendants from the first trial is based on the charge of criminal coercion. As with the attempt to use an anti-Mafia law in the first trial, this charge is another example of laws, intended to tackle illegal personal financial gain, being inappropriately used against people who are zero interested in personal financial gain.

University law professor and head of department for criminal law at the Johannes Kepler University Linz, Dr Petra Velten, recently responded with a report strongly criticising the court’s decision. The following is a short summary of her main points.

 

Professor Velten’s expert report on the court’s decision to proceed with the trial makes the point that when trying someone for criminal coercion their intention or long-term aim must be taken into account. In this case activists’ intention or long-term aim is the principle of animal protection, a principle happily now firmly anchored in the Austrian constitution. The court that has allowed the case however, sees the activist’s campaign as solely having the aim of preventing the company from selling fur rather than the larger goal of achieving protection for animals. Velten refers to this as an ‘interpretation trick’ on the part of the court. Velten demonstrates her point with the example of someone stranded overnight in the mountains breaking in to a mountain cabin in order to survive the night. For assessing the lawfulness of this action a verdict must consider the person’s intention, which, in this example, is clearly one of survival. It would be wrong to assess the lawfulness of this situation based only on the information that the person broke into the cabin.

 

The court’s decision to uphold the retrial also includes the argument that acts of coercion are only to be considered acceptable if a person is driven to these measures in order to protect or achieve something that he or she has a legal right to. As campaigners have no legal right to prohibiting the sale of fur, their actions demanding this are therefore illegal. Taken seriously, this would lead to a wide range of social interactions being illegal, from employees going on strike as part of their demand for higher wages, or voters petitioning an electoral candidate to exclude anti-foreigner parts of their manifesto to a dentist refusing to treat his or her patient unless they clean their teeth regularly. In none of these cases do the the demanding parties have any legal right to what they are demanding.

 

Velten states that a correct interpretation of the law concerning coercion is one based on the ‘principle of related actions’ which means that, given that it is legal to hold demonstrations, the act of announcing a demonstration cannot be interpreted as being illegal.

 

The prosecution claims that the company Kleider Bauer has suffered financial loss through the anti-fur campaign. It is interesting to consider who is to be seen as responsible for this alleged financial loss. Is it the activists seeking to influence the customers or is it the customers who actually boycott the store? And in any case, lost opportunities to sell fur cannot be considered financial loss as the company was at no time in possession of the earnings from those potential sales.

 

Velten’s report ends with the observation that in order to find someone guilty of coercion it must be established that they have offended public moral decency (Sittenwidrigkeit). This vague description contravenes Article 2 of the constitution which states that laws must be written in such a way that members of the public are able to clearly interpret what is and is not allowed.

Acid Attack on Peaceful Protesters

It was a media stunt to draw attention to the fact that what is a ‘violation of moral principles’ is the fur trade itself, not campaigning against it!

In the film you can see the protesters infront of the store that continues to sell fur, Kleider Bauer, baring their butts for the press when a guy pulls up in an old Mercedes without the back numberplate, jumps out leaving the engine running and sprays the protesters with acid from a water pistol! Three brave protesters tackle him to the ground until the police arrive. Ten people were injured, three of whom got acid in their faces. Luckily all the burns have healed.

Just a crazy guy? Unlikely, the attack must have taken some planning and before police took him away the guy let slip to one of the protesters in the presence of a police officer that he had been paid to do it.

Take the ‘Decency’ Test

Do your opinions ‘violate moral principles’?

The court’s decision to uphold the appeal which will relaunch the infamous Austrian animal rights trail is based on the charge of coercion.

As the court sees it, people have no legal right to demand more than minimum standards of animal protection set by law. Such demands are viewed by the court as a violation of moral principles. That makes the announcement of an awareness-raising campaign count as coercion due to the fact that profits could be affected by it.

Take the ‘Moral Decency Test’ yourself to find out whether your views would be seen as a ‘violation of moral principles’ by the court: www.sittenwidrig.at

file8391291072758