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.