As you may recall, I wrote to you in June about ten young people held in prison in Austria since mid-May suspected of belonging to a Mafia-like organization supposedly perpetrating crimes in defense of animals.
I thought you might like to know that one of them was released in August and all the rest at the beginning of September. The media more or less ignored them for the more than three months they were in prison but now the journalists can’t get enough of them! One of them, Martin Balluch, has been invited by the Green Party to be one of its candidates in the forthcoming Austrian elections. He has been on TV and radio non-stop. He lost 20 kilos (around 40 pounds) in jail but his fire is returning. The affair is not over, however: the investigations are still going ahead and it could still come to a trial. No evidence linking the ten to any crimes has been found, even after 18 months of police surveillance but the accusation that the ten belong to a criminal organization has not been dropped. Human rights groups are therefore monitoring the situation closely. In the meantime, the ten are trying to pick up their lives and jobs….
Heartfelt thanks to those of you who went to the trouble of writing to them. One of the first things they did when they got out of prison was to express amazement at how much moral support they received from around the world. They were greatly touched by the hundreds of letters that poured in and they sent out a big thank you to all.
So what’s the moral of this story?
Surely that non-governmental organizations (including Vegetarian and Vegan Societies) need to be vigilant about their rights. New anti-terrorist and anti-organized crime laws are being put in place in an ever-growing number of countries and they seem all too easy to use to lock away genuine, non-violent social activists. Is it possible that the Austrian police simply picked on the heads or best known workers of animal protection groups on the assumption that they must be the guilty parties? Their associations have not had their records and equipment returned to them yet. We may think that what happened in Austria won’t happen in our own country but…..There are strong economic forces that might not hesitate to start police action against animal defense organizations.
P.S. Below please find an interview with one of the detainees (bottom right in the five photos above):
FOUR PAWS employee freed: ‘Animal welfare is being criminalized!’
Jürgen Faulmann (39), international campaigns director of the animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, was released from prison yesterday, where he had been on remand for three months. Here he answers some of the main questions directed to him and FOUR PAWS.
How are you feeling today?
I'm still fairly tired. I am also constantly surprised by emotional outbursts, particularly as a reaction to media coverage of the release. It is good to know that so many people support us. In prison you try and suppress all the emotion so you make it through. Now I reckon it all has to come out.
Do you know why you were arrested?
As one of the most prominent and active members of the animal welfare movement I obviously provided a wonderful target for those who want to criminalize animal welfare using a law set up to protect against mafia-style organized crime.
Do you suspect political or economic motives behind the arrests?
Both, unfortunately. Some of the connections have already been uncovered by the media and some politicians. The proof is there: economic interests, predominantly a certain clothing chain, joined forces with members of the executive branch to damage the legal animal welfare movement - with the tacit support of some politicians.
What is your opinion of criminal acts within the animal welfare struggle?
I draw the line at civil disobedience. I do not believe in committing criminal acts.
Do you see yourself as a political prisoner?
It is unacceptable that in a democracy a part of civil society can be criminalized at the request of certain economic interests. It is now paramount that an investigation take place into how and why such an assault on civil liberties and legitimate public-interest organizations could take place.
Do you foresee being charged with anything?
It very much depends on the way the so-called anti-mafia paragraph is interpreted. If they choose to apply it according to its original purpose there will be no charges. If, however, they continue to abuse the letter of the law for their own ends then there is a risk I will be charged. If that happens, every charitable organization in Austria is in danger of being labelled criminal - along with all its supporters.
Will you be taking legal steps?
At the moment I am concentrating on finding a way back into normal life.
There is a lot to deal with emotionally, which will take a lot of strength.
My lawyers are examining the case, so I'm afraid I can't say much more at this stage.
What are your plans for the next few weeks?
I'm going to spend the weekend with my friends and family and try to make up for lost time. On Monday I shall go into the office and concentrate on catching up on work for a week, before its off to the Adriatic Sea for some sailing. My greatest wish at the moment is to take advantage of freedom. And it has been too long since I was able to pursue my real passion - hiking in the mountains and enjoying nature.
Editor's Note: Diana Dunningham-Chapotin is International Secretary of the TOS.