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Austrian activists caught in Kafkaesque trial

Animal-rights leader Martin Balluch to speak at Světozor

Posted: August 21, 2013

By Raymond Johnston - Staff Writer | Comments (0) | Post comment

Austrian activists caught in Kafkaesque trial

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Animal-rights activist Martin Balluch is one of several people caught up in a trial in Austria.

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A group of animal-rights activists in Austria were charged under laws meant to combat organized crime and terrorists, following a raid in which computers were smashed and guns were pointed at their heads by masked commandos. A documentary about the raid and subsequent proceedings is called The Trial, the same name as the famous novel by Franz Kafka. Indeed, the whole affair has a Kafkaesque flavor. Surveillance went on for years, turning up little, and the eventual charges were vague to say the least. The affair has carried on for years, costing millions of euros.

One of the main protagonists in the incident - physicist, teacher and activist Martin Balluch -will be in Prague to discuss the film and animal rights after a screening of The Trial at Kino Světozor. The film will have English subtitles and the discussion will be in English.

Ewa Iwaszuk - member of a Prague-based NGO called International Young Naturefriends (IYNF), which organized the event - told The Prague Post that Balluch has condemned the use of violence repeatedly and supports a pragmatic approach to improving animal-rights laws.  "On the whole, Balluch seems to be the prototypical passionate activist who campaigns against animal cruelty without regard for himself," she said, adding that philosopher Peter Singer, who teaches bioethics at Princeton University, has called Balluch one of the foremost spokesmen in the worldwide animal rights movement for pursuing a nonviolent, democratic road to reform.

Balluch has devised effective campaigns to raise awareness about factory farming and has been successful in getting laws changed. "Austria's animal-welfare laws are some of the most progressive in the world. It was the first country in the European Union to ban battery farms for chickens and fur farms. The use of wild animals in circuses was prohibited years ago due to ethical concerns," Iwaszuk said.

The Trial
Friday, Aug. 23, at 8:30
Where: Kino Světozor

The film focuses on five people targeted under Austria's Article 278a, under which proving that someone committed a crime is not necessary. Someone's attitude becomes the key evidence. The perpetrator is important, not the crime. "What this essentially means is that the activists were tried for civil and political activity, under laws that were designed to deal with terrorists [and] targeted criminal organizations involved in trading arms and human trafficking … and threatening national security," Iwaszuk said.

The five people were even observed while they slept. Two years of surveillance and confiscation of property failed to produce the expected evidence. Despite this fact, the state prosecutor petitioned to prolong the three-month detention, arguing that "a particularly secretive criminal organization" was involved, she said.

"This film shows how they prepare their defense, their actions during the trial, and how they deal with the possibility of more prison time, as they face sentences of up to five years," she said. Reactions of politicians and human rights experts are also shown.

Iwaszuk said she hopes the film and discussion will raise awareness not only of animal rights but of how democratic societies that are supposed to function under the rule of law are becoming open to state oppression of citizens. "Martin [Balluch] is a very interesting personality and an engaging speaker. On the one hand, he is a thinker and an intellectual, with degrees in philosophy and theoretical physics and an academic career that included teaching at Cambridge University; on the other hand, he is a passionate and engaged activist with a history of acts of civil disobedience," she said.

Raymond Johnston can be reached at

Tags: Austria, animal rights, Martin Balluch, Kafka, police state, surveillance, trial.

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