Note: The contents in words and pictures of this article are based on the facts when it was first published (30.09.2010).Vienna, 29th September 2010
Animal Protection Trial – Update September 2010
Endless - This trial against 13 animal rights campaigners accused of being members of a Mafia-like criminal organisation started on 2 March 2010. So far there have been 50 days spent in court and the end of this monster trial is no where in sight. On the contrary, the court is still only hearing witnesses from the prosecution!
Criticism and costs - It is expected that the case will be heard until well into 2011. An increasing number of notable legal experts and journalists openly criticise the trial, not only condemning the initial decision to use anti-Mafia laws against NGO campaigners, but also the treatment of the defendants in the court proceedings and the unbelievably long duration of the trial. Aside from the cost of such a trial for the tax payer, the defendants have been unable to work since the trial began and can look forward to personal financial ruin incurred through lawyers costs alone.
Absence of evidence - In all these hours and days in court spent listening to the prosecution's case not one piece of evidence has been brought forward to implicate the defendants in belonging to a criminal organisation, or indeed that such an organisation even exists!
A mockery - Many people have expressed their despair at the situation by ridiculing the trial. Since the first day in court there have been a succession of happenings at the court ranging from balloons with messages on them appearing at the windows of the court room to members of the public simultaneously adorning red clown noses while sitting in the court room's public gallery. The court's reaction has been to fill the public gallery seats with police cadets making it often impossible for defendants' family and friends to watch the proceedings.
Injured in court - The application made to the court by one of the defendants questioning the presence of police cadets in the public gallery angered the judge so much that she not only turned down the application, but also had the defendant thrown out of the court. When the defendant refused to leave she had police manhandle him out of the court. As a result of injuries sustained during his removal, the defendant had to spend the following day in hospital.
Right to cross-examine witnesses refused – This month saw the head of the special police unit responsible for the investigations and his second in command in the witness box. They were unable to present any evidence against the defendants and mostly replied to questions that they either couldn't remember anything or that they would have to refer to the files. When the defence asked why, after such intensive investigations, the unit was unable to present any clear evidence, the head of the police unit answered that the accused operate in such a professional way that it is not possible to uncover them. Shockingly the judge refused defendants' their right to further cross examine these extremely important witnesses. The defence has demanded that these witnesses be called to testify again.
The court was in recess throughout August.
Police computer expert – Testifying in court, the police special unit's computer expert said that he had never dealt with so many encrypted e-mails. Although police were unable to crack pgp and truecrypt, they were able to crack Window's EFS encryption and retrieve deleted e-mails from defendants' computer trash folders. Apart from the occasional e-mail from the mid 90s written by Dr Balluch to his father describing demonstrations in the UK where damage to property had taken place, nothing of relevance to the trial could be reported.
The same computer expert went on to testify that the texts previously referred to by the prosecution's linguistic expert as having been written by Dr Balluch were nowhere to be found on Balluch's computer. The computer expert informed the court that these texts had been located on a VGT computer belonging to former VGT director Franz Plank. The texts were written between 1994 and 1997, therefore preceding Dr Balluch's arrival in Austria.
Hostility – Much of this case rests on the prosecution being able to prove that a structured criminal organisation exists in which the defendants cooperate with each other. However, the newest report from the special police unit (yes, police continue to investigate as you read this update) on contact between defendants' respective groups shows that not only has there been no cooperation, but that, on the contrary, there is a long history of outright hostility between the groups.
Mobile phone tracking – A further police expert presented data to the court on the location of defendants' mobile phones during times when criminal offences were committed by unknown persons. This data provided exonerating evidence for the defendants, but as with so much exonerating evidence in this trial, it is nowhere to be found in the prosecution files.
Defendants charged to read prosecution case files – In a bizarre move this week the court presented one of the defendants with an invoice for €28 for making mobile phone photos of pages from the case files. The files exceed 200,000 pages and in order to get access the defendants have to pay the court €1 a page for paper photocopies. A way around this is to use a mobile phone to photograph the pages relevant to the day’s proceedings, but now the court is trying to insist that 50 cents must be paid for each photo made by the defendants themselves!