The (first) Trial against 13 animal welfare activists in Austria finished yesterday after 14 months, clearing all of the accused of all charges. In a nutshell in this trial 13 people were accused of forming a „criminal organization“. 10 of them had their homes searched and were held in custody for 109 days back in 2008.
What had been criticized about the accusations, is that they did not incriminate concrete actions (Person A did X) but instead mapped criminal offenses (We are talking „minor“ property damages) committed by unknown persons to an abstract organization (The „ALF“) the „idea of which“ the accused allegedly supported by running animal welfare campaigns.
(There were however some exceptions: One activist for example was accused of smashing a window of a gathering of neo-fascists; another was accused of releasing a group of confined pigs to the outside that caused them injuries and hence violated the animal welfare act; 10 of the 13 exclusively faced the accusation of forming a criminal organization.)

Previously to the judgment the judge herself had been subject of serious criticism throughout the legal profession for the way she had run the trial, mainly for not letting the defense ask their questions freely to any of the witnesses and for discussing conduct during perfectly legal campaigns.

In February/March she stopped, quite suddenly, the exposition of the accusations by the general attorney and declared that she would proclaim her judgment in late April. (That was just a week after the main accused, Martin Balluch, had published an estimate that the trial would go on at least until late 2013.) As this would leave no time to hear most of the defense’s witnesses, it had been rumored since then that she would issue a clearance of all charges.

In her judgment on 2and of May she finally stated that there is no such criminal organization in Austria. She also criticized the Austrian police and general attorney for a number of issues as for instance secret investigations that had not been reported to the accused or the court, and which were only revealed in December 2010 due to private investigations of the accused.

She stated that the accused split into two groups that do not cooperate and hence could not form a criminal organization. The accused would not encourage or engage in any illegal action but might, however sympathize with the ALF which by itself would not constitute a criminal offense. Furthermore they were not organized hierarchically and there was no evidence of critical infrastructure of such an organization.

With regard to a linguist that accused Martin Balluch of writing several letters, some of which confessed to committing criminal offenses, the judge stated that the linguist could not argue to his point and held him to be unqualified to judge issues of forensic linguistics. Furthermore the statements by a number of persons claiming authorship of a number of the texts were held to be credible.

The singular offenses, that did not fall under the main accusation of forming a criminal organization, were dismissed for reasons of substantial doubt.

The general attorney had just an hour ago declared that he will appeal against the judgment. This had been found to be surprising as it will constitute an(other) opportunity for the previously accused to further proof the illegal conduct of the police and general attorney during the issue. The previously accused have already issued a sue against the police.

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