Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Συμβαίνουν στη Αυστρία και όχι σε τριτοκοσμική χώρα

Appeal from Dr Martin Balluch, still in prison

VGT press conference and solidarity demonstration before the Ministry of Justice

Letter from Martin Balluch

12 days ago in the night, in my own home, I was attacked and robbed by a group of armed, masked men. This is an unending nightmare. To this day I am still sitting in a tiny cell and stare all day long at the same desolate wall, and cannot take a single step in privacy, nor can I read the newspaper or see my friends and family.

This is the 13th day of my hunger strike. Having been attacked and locked away without even the smallest reasonable suspicion of having committed a crime, I found myself forced to use the last of my autonomy to make a protest: I refuse to eat. 13 days without food is very painful. The sensations of hunger drill down into all levels of my consciousness. My body is visibly deteriorating. I have already lost 18 kilos. Every movement is awful and exhausting, and I have frequent severe muscle and stomach cramps.

I read in the mile-high file on my case that the police have been listening in on my life without interruption for more than a year now, listening in on every private and intimate conversation that I have. And even so they have not found even one single bit of proof that would show I had broken the law. The only “proof” against me that is mentioned are my convictions, convictions that are evidenced in private conversations and in interviews with and reports about me in the media. Yes, animal protection is terribly important to me and I have dedicated my life to it. Yes, I believe that the horrific treatment of animals in laboratories and animal factories is not irrelevant in general or to my life, but is instead comparable to the torture and abuse of people. But this does not make me a criminal. For 25 years now I have been active for animal protection and not once have I ever been convicted of a crime. In this country we have the freedom to express our opinions and the freedom to think as our conscience leads us to. At least that is what I used to believe until very recently. The civil and human rights guaranteed by the Austrian Constitution forbid persecuting, abusing and locking away someone for their beliefs. But indeed, exactly that is what is happening to me.

In the two-and-a-half decades in which I have been active for animal protection, I had great successes especially in recent years. I was able to personally contribute significantly to the prohibition of fur farms, wild animals in circuses and above all to the end of battery chicken farms, so that in Austria today we have the best animal protection in the world. But it's exactly that – especially the end of the battery chicken farms – that seems to have soured some of the powerful. Since 2004 there has been increasing harassment from the authorities, culminating in false testimony about the Association Against Animal Factories being made by the then Minister of the Interior before the Austrian Parliament. A suit filed for revocation of his remarks met with no success because of his parliamentary immunity, but he was forced to admit to the federal Ombudsman Board (Volksanwaltschaft) that he had “been wrong.” He did not even react then to newspaper ads in which the Association against Animal Factories stated that he was a liar.

But, as it says in my file, a Special Commission against animal protection was instituted and it has eavesdropped on me and many other animal protection activists and associations since approximately April 2007. However, since obviously no real suspicion could be founded despite spying on all of these many conversations and emails, something had to happen. The Special Commission couldn't be dissolved without any results. So it was decided to undertake a major raid and house searches in a dramatic way, in the hopes of digging up some kind of circumstantial evidence.

According to my file there were 23 searches made on 21 May, targeting animal protectionists' private spaces, including five offices of animal protection associations (also the Association against Animal Factories offices in Vienna and Graz) as well as the VGT materials storage area. 24 animal protectionists were arrested by the police and questioned, including 8 VGT activists.

As cause for the action, since there were no specific suspicions, the vaguest and most unspecific accusation had to be found. It was decided to choose Section 278a of the Criminal Code, dealing with the establishment of a very large criminal organization. Since it had been planned from the beginning to put 10 people into investigative custody, Section 278a with its significantly worse punishment for large criminal associations was chosen instead of the “smaller” Section 278. Despite the fact that, as the police file itself says, I had personal contact of any kind ever with only 6 of the other 9 detainees.

In order to justify this brutal police action against animal protection to the public, the elite 'WEGA' force was sent to carry out the raids with weapons drawn, and then rumours regarding suspected arson and gas attacks were spread. There's nothing about this in the file, though. Never has there been a gas attack in Austria having anything to do with animal protection, and the last case of animal-protection related arson lies six years back. The fact of the matter is that damage to property in the name of animal protection is extraordinarily rare in Austria compared to other countries. This is certainly due to the great animal protection successes of recent years in Austria. We were able to bring about change in Austria. Accordingly, the frustration level is low in Austria, frustration levels being the main trigger for such actions where they are high.

Why then am I not set free now? It's quite simple. The entire action was politically motivated and probably directed from the top. If I were set free now, then the public would see it as an admission that the whole action and all the work of the Special Commission had not resulted in any useful results whatsoever. So I have to remain in this cell and slowly starve, so that the Minister of the Interior can save face. It wouldn't surprise me if it were being planned to set us free during the decisive EuroCup games in the hopes of avoiding press coverage.

This scandal cannot be tolerated. I ask everyone who cares about animal protection and human rights to take action now to prevent this crime. This kind of police arbitrariness against NPOs is something we might recognize in dictatorships, but not in a democracy. Please stand up strong; stand against this outrageous injustice. My life depends on it.

Dr Martin Balluch
Chairman of the Association against Animal Factories
Address:
Zelle B3/15
Justizanstalt Wien-Josefstadt