Note: The contents in words and pictures of this article are based on the facts when it was first published (11.06.2013).Vienna, June 11 2013
Higher Regional Court verdict in Austria defines organised ethical consumerism as coercion
The quintessential task of NGOs – exposing unethical business practice of corporations and pushing for change by informing the public – is being criminalised.
In 2008, when the case on the animal welfare activists was revealed, the public prosecutor cited countless criminal offences, immeasurable damage sums and a large criminal organisation in the animal welfare activists scene that had supposedly carried out 35 criminal campaigns since 1988(!). The Higher Regional Court judges Dr Ingrid Jelinek and Dr Christine Schwab pronounced in 2008 that there would be an appeal because there was a criminal organisation and that the long remand of almost 4 months was justified because the defendants were going to receive a sentence of 1 to 10 years. After 100 days on trial nothing remained and the sentence was one of acquittal.
Now the verdict on the appeal against the acquittal came from the same judges of the Higher Regional Court, needless to say without them being prejudiced, and again they ruled in favour of the public prosecutor in every point. But 5 years later there is nothing left of the former allegations of criminal acts, so the judges define the announcement of legal and peaceful demonstrations as a criminal offence: coercion. Interestingly this new legal opinion is nowhere to be found in the 112-page verdict of 2008, written by the same judges on the same case. In today’s verdict this argument covers 11 pages!
First it is being asserted that it's bad for business if a consumer is informed about a product by an NGO and convinced to refrain from buying said product. So the threat of informing consumers supposedly is a criminal and dangerous threat. Influencing company policy by such information thereby becomes coercion. And this is only liable to prosecution if the threat for the pursued purpose is immoral (contra bonos mores). In this regard, according to the judges, every organised strike is a potential coercion and has to be reviewed. And this judgement depends on the accurate demands: if those are too radical, then they are against public policy. Actually the judges consider the request to end fur trade against public policy. After all livestock fur ostensibly is fur – the judges missed the fact that the fur-campaign explicitly excluded livestock fur from its demands – and no rational human would say something against that. Besides that the demand to end fur trade is too radical because fur from species-appropriate animal husbandry can't constitute an ethical problem. Again the judges reveal their ignorance: there can't be any fur from species-appropriate animal husbandry as fur farming has been outlawed in Austria since 1998, without any exceptions.
VGT’s (Verein Gegen Tierfabriken - Association against Factory Farms) Dr Dr Martin Balluch clarifies: “In this verdict both judges show their absolute incomprehension for animal welfare activity, at one point they even conclude animal welfare is not political activism. And they want to dictate to us animal welfare NGOs what demands we should make to companies on behalf of animals. But that is going too far. I'm afraid that considering animal welfare, those two judges aren't the policy makers to decide which demand is against public policy and which isn't. The vast majority of people in Austria share our wish for an end to the fur trade in the common usage of the word, that is to say of animals being solely kept for their fur. It is an inapprehensible threat to the constitutional democracy and freedom of speech if non-progressive judges declare this demand a coercion and even question the right to strike! The European Court Of Human Rights will put an end to this provincial farce!”