Hunger Strike: Day 41: 30th June 2008
On May 21 2008 masked and armed officers of the Austrian elite squad WEGA broke into homes and offices of NGO workers and organisations at the crack of dawn. Since that day, 10 people arrested in the raids have been detained in remand custody. One of the detainees, president of VGT (Association against Factory Farms) Dr Martin Balluch has also been on hunger strike since that day. He is presently being artificially fed. A string of human rights violations against these animal protectionists has caused outrage and strong criticism towards Austrian authorities from the international community and concerned Austrians. The authorities claim, and therefore in turn the Austrian media as well, that the animal protectionists are responsible for an arson attack.
This accusation of arson came as a surprise to animal protection circles as, especially in recent years, there has been no report of arson with an animal rights connection in Austria. In the prosecution file, withheld until now from the defense, the worst suspicions can be confirmed: The allegedly animal rights motivated arson attack was in fact a hunting cabin fire caused by hunters themselves as they let a stove overheat. The public prosecution have bent the facts in order to provide a reason for mistreating and imprisoning innocent animal protectionists!
The following fact can be found in the police files, that the hunting cabin burnt down on 11.11.2007 at approximately 7 p.m. The prosecution states that it happened between 11 and 13.11.2007. The time of the fire was deliberately extended to 13.11 because, according to the surveillance reports, the VGT president Dr Martin Balluch was in the same area on that day. The deliberate time extension thus provided an opportunity to construe a suspicion. However, the public prosecution failed to disclose that Dr Balluch was in the area in order to document illegal pheasant enclosures and that he was in constant telephone contact with the state appointed animal welfare ombudsman throughout the day. The pheasant enclosures were indeed reported to the authorities on the very next day.
The public prosecution claims that the arson was animal rights motivated, despite the fact that the fire expert assessing the incident stated that the probable cause of the fire was the overheating of a non-insulated stove placed against a wooden wall. There was no indication of arson.
During the first police interview the hunter responsible for the hunting area in which the cabin was located told police that he did not light the stove on the day of the fire. Only a few days later the same hunter admitted to police that he had lied. Out of fear that he would be made responsible for the burning down of the cabin, the hunter admitted that he along with other hunters had indeed lit the stove on the same day as the fire. He told police that the fire had been burning fiercely for hours before the cabin caught fire.
One hunter belonging to this particular group even wrote to the insurance company and emphasised "the fire was not caused by a third party as claimed (this would ensure that the insurance company would pay), it was instead caused by hunting staff belonging to the hunting society, [... ] who heated the wood stove too fiercely."
In order to make the animal protectionists appear responsible, a letter claiming responsibility was fabricated and mentioned in the police files. No such letter exists. The fire was mentioned only in an animal welfare magazine.
Defense lawyer for Dr Martin Balluch, Mag. Stefan Traxler: "It begs belief how the facts have been twisted and fabricated here in an attempt to accuse my client. But, now it's out in the open: there was no arson attack. I therefore expect that my client be released immediately and that his confiscated property and that belonging to the organisation VGT be returned without delay. We will be suing the persons responsible for damages."
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