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Representative of OIPA in India,
C-38, Rose Apartment, Prashant Vihar,
ROHINI, DELHI - 110085
His Excellency The Ambassador of Austria
The Ambassador of Austria
Object: Ten animal rights workers imprisoned since May 21, 2008
July 2nd, 2008
Dear Mr Ambassador,
I respectfully request your help concerning an event that will take place this week in your country: the next evaluation of the detention of the ten animal rights activists held on remand since May 21. As you know, on that day an independent judge will decide whether the activists must remain in custody without charge.
I understand that the Ministry of Justice is monitoring the development of this case as a matter of normal supervision. In the hope that the case will be closely reviewed at the approach of the hearing, I ask you to be so kind as to submit the following questions to Dr Maria Berger. I understand that all letters cannot be answered individually but I hope that through your good offices, an answer may be possible in this case.
1) It is everyone's hope, I am sure, that the detainees will be released this week unless formal charges are filed backed by evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Failing this, I would like to know if it would be possible to release the detainees provisionally pending further proceedings. (It is rumored that the police may not have time to examine all the computers confiscated for another six months! This is a distressing idea for many people, as you can imagine.) It seems reasonable to think that in this case the course of justice would not be hampered by the provisional release of these ten people.
2) In light of the fact that the Ministry of Justice affirms that Austrian law offers a comprehensive modern system of protection for imprisoned citizens, I draw its attention to the following features of the case, asking for Dr Berger's confirmation, correction or clarification:
a) There appears to have been a lack of specificity in the search warrants issued.
b) The manner in which the police acted when making its arrests was disproportionate to the circumstances (masked, gun-carrying men breaking through doors at dawn, etc.). Does the Minister agree that this police behavior was inappropriate?
c) Not all the detainees were allowed to contact lawyers before being interrogated by the police. (This has been confirmed in writing by Mr Gerhard Pichler of the Ministry of the Interior.)
d) The specificity of the charges against the detainees was apparently not communicated to them upon their arrest.
e) The detainees and their lawyers were not promptly informed of the evidence against them. Even today – over a month after their arrest - they say that though the prosecution is legally obliged to do so, it has still not disclosed the whole file and all evidence against them, which makes it very hard for their lawyers to defend them.
3) In Dr Berger's view, do any of the points mentioned above, if confirmed in the course of her supervision of the case; constitute a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights or at least of Austrian law?
4) Regarding the suspicion that the ten detainees are members of a 'criminal organization'; does the Minister of Justice feel any skepticism over the validity or applicability to this case of Section 278a of the Austrian Criminal Code?
5) Given that people are to be assumed innocent until proved guilty and that no charges have been laid against our friends, would it be possible for the conditions of their detention to be improved? Is it normal for people on remand in Austrian prisons to be kept in a very small space with chain smokers, allowed only two showers per week, only one hour of exercise outside per day and only very brief and infrequent visits with their family and friends?
I reiterate my expression of hope that the detainees will be released this week unless evidence of their membership of a criminal organization is presented. I realize that it must be frustrating to the President of Austria and his ministers and embassies to receive thousands of letters from people who are not fully informed about the Austrian legal system. I can only say that I have done my very best to find out as much as I can about this case from all sides and to raise only questions that citizens concerned about human rights could reasonably raise.
Thank you very much for your advice in this matter.
Mobile - +91-9813010595
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In the early morning hours of 21 May 2008, a concerted country-wide police operation in Austria, raided and searched the homes of 23 animal protectionists. Ten people were remanded in custody. To date no concrete or substantive grounds have been announced for those arrests and remands in custody.
I strongly protest against this course of action. Both the police operation and the remand in custody of these people are completely disproportionate. For example, doors were rammed open without warning; masked police
officers stormed homes with drawn guns. This was followed by grievous verbal and physical harassment and humiliation.
As justification for the raids, the Public Prosecutor's Office cites § 278a Austrian Penal Code (The formation of a "criminal organisation"), a paragraph, which is otherwise used solely in relation to people smuggling rings and Mafia organisations. Proof of the existence of the alleged "criminal organisation" by the authorities is still outstanding. The Public Prosecutor's Office has also not made any clear statements about the concrete connections that the detainees supposedly have with this ominous organisation.
It cannot be accepted, that a state under the rule of law remands people in custody without convincing argument. It cannot be accepted that the police confiscate computers, mobile telephones, member lists and documents on the off chance. Four Animal Protection Associations have been robbed of their functional existence in this manner. These facts are
all serious violations of civil rights.
It appears that there is an attempt to criminalize the Austrian Animal Protection and Animal Rights movement. The police operation is causing lasting damage to the image of the Animal Protection movement. By depriving the NGOs of their infrastructure and lists of potential donors, they are deprived of all chances to continue to working for and representing their concerns.
Please take on this case and commit yourself to bringing transparency to this issue before Austria's international image is seriously damaged.
Unless the Public Prosecutor is able to bring immediate proof of the serious accusations that have been made, the detainees must be released without delay!
Representative of OIPA in INDIA Naresh Kadyan