Human rights under threat in Austria? | A journalist and human rights | 26 Jun 2008 | Amnesty International UK

Human rights under threat in Austria?

 

There's a protest planned for London tomorrow at the Austrian Embassy. The issue surrounds the detention of 10 animal rights campaigners in Austria imprisoned under a new law intended to fight organised crime gangs.

According to supporters of the detainees, the chairman of one of Austria's biggest animal protection groups is being force fed in prison after nearly 5 weeks on hunger strike.

They say that in the early hours of May 21st, special forces of the Austrian police, many armed, in black clothing and wearing masks, forced entry to 23 homes and offices of animal protection campaigners across Austria. Fourteen people were arrested. 

All the premises were searched and and police took away computers, discs, mobile phones, videos, cameras, photos, video tapes, papers, records, and databases.

Among those targeted were groups such as the Austrian Vegan
Society, and mainstream animal protection groups VGT, Vierpfoten, Respekttiere and TierWegehave, as well as other campaigners and individuals.

Most of the groups have been left without the basic means to continue their
legal and political work or even communicate with supporters and friends. The
police have stated that the examination of the computers will probably only
start next year, because they are very busy, so there is little prospect of
these groups recovering in the near future.

Ten people are being held without charge in pre-trial detention, which could
last for months.  One of those in detention, Martin Balluch, the Chairman of
VGT, has been on hunger strike for almost 5 weeks in protest at his treatment
and continued detention without charge, and is now being force fed in the prison
hospital.

The official justification for the continued detention without charge is the
controversial Austrian Law 278a StGB which outlaws the "formation of a criminal
body". This law was intended to fight organised crime gangs, such as drug
smugglers, gun runners or people traffickers.

Campaigners say that instead it is being used as a political weapon by the current Austrian government to silence legal campaigners and to break up the animal protection movement, which has had some remarkable
success in recent years. Many of those detained have played a key role in very
successful political campaigns, including a ban on fur farms, an end to the
keeping of battery hens and a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses
 
One supporter said in an email to me: " It is shocking and disturbing that such terror and corruption can take place in a modern, so-called democratic country in Europe. If those in power in Austria are allowed to get away with this, it isn't just animal rights campaigners whoare in danger, but all groups around the world fighting for social justice, human rights, the environment, and all who value justice and compassion over
corruption and profit.

The demonstration on Friday 27th June in London is part of a growing wave of
international protest against the Austrian government's treatment and of lawful animal protection campaigners. 

For more information please read the following article published by The Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jun/05/animalwelfare.austria

Thanks for your time.

Billy Briggs. www.billybriggs.co.uk

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