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Repression in Austria over PGP keys

RA Mag. Stefan Traxler, attorney at law | 08.07.2008 15:46 | Animal Liberation | Repression | Technology | World

To whom it may concern

In the early hours of May 21st a police raid against over 20 animal protectionists took place throughout Austria. Ten people were arrested. Over twenty homes and offices, including the office of the VGT (Association against Animal Factories) were searched, mostly by special police squads, which in some cases entered premises by breaking down the door and threatening inhabitants at gun point. Computers, complete with donator data bases, papers, including the book keeping and other items of property were seized and apart from a few exceptions, nothing has yet been returned.

All arrested activists, among them one woman, are still incarcerated. Several prisoners started a hunger strike to protest against these measures. One prisoner remains on hunger strike and is being artificially fed on the prison hospital wing.

The accusation is that, the activists are members of a criminal organisation, a felony according to § 278a Code of Criminal Law, which was created to battle the Mafia or drug cartels. It is now being misused to criminalize legal NGO work.

There have been cases of damage to property in previous years, but the authorities have not even claimed that the detainees committed any of these offences. They instead allege, one single 'criminal organization' is responsible for all offences related to animal rights in Austria and that the arrested people are part of this organization. Neither the police nor the prosecution, nor the judge have given any explanation as to why they think this organization exists or why they believe these individuals are members of it.

The justice and human rights spokespersons of the Austrian Social Democratic Party, the Austrian Green Party and Amnesty international have criticised the actions of the authorities. Huge numbers of worldwide protests have taken place.

It has been inferred by the prosecution that because some of the detainees use PGP to protect their data from unauthorised misuse that they belong to a criminal organization. It is as if one should be regarded as suspicious for locking one's door.

Telephone and email surveillance have been carried out without sufficient justification for this infringement on privacy. However, despite all these investigative measures, the prosecution has nothing more than that.

In an effort to justify this massive operation, the prosecution have already used "incorrectly" translated quotes to make accusations, falsified a statement of a crown witness and fabricated a case of arson. As the defence lawyers are still waiting for full access to the prosecution papers, who knows what else will be revealed?

Due to the mass searches and confiscation of property, of which, some have already been declared unlawful by the Chief Prosecutor, there is no reason to assume that the prisoners could obstruct evidence if set free. Therefore, this ground for detention does not apply. There are no reasons given why the prisoners should carry out any crimes or have planned any.

So, it is not only that sufficient suspicion is lacking, there are also no grounds that would justify remand detention.

In conclusion: The accusations are ill-founded, the actions taken disproportionate and there was no reasonable suspicion for arrests and searches, not to mention the higher level of suspicion necessary for remand detention. As result the defence are taking all legal actions available against these measures.

RA Mag. Stefan Traxler, attorney at law
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