Austrian activists on hunger strike after arrests

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2008:
VIENNA–Association Against Animal Factories founder Martin
Balluch and 13 other Austrian activists associated with at least
seven organizations–and the Animal Conference 2006 held in
Vienna–were reportedly arrested without charges on May 21, 2008,
in dawn raids on as many as 24 homes and offices. The raids were
noteworthy for the lack of information disclosed by Austrian
authorities about the reasons for them and the findings of the police
investigators.
“Ten people are being held in pre-trial detention, which
could last for months, accused of ‘forming a criminal organization,'”
said the Farm Animal Reform Movement in a supporting statement.
“Seven, including President of the Austrian Association Against
Animal Factories Professor Martin Balluch, are on a hunger strike
and becoming very weak,” FARM added. Balluch, hunger striking
for 20 days as ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, was said to have been
hospitalized.


FARM and other organizations on June 11, 2008 demonstrated
in support of Balluch and the other detainees at Austrian embassies
and consulates in at least 12 U.S. and northern European cities.
Wrote Victor Schonfeld in a June 5, 2008 Guardian guest
column, “Balluch’s lawyer, Stephan Traxler, has been shown excerpts
from a police surveillance dossier of several thousand pages
concerning minor acts of vandalism against fur shops and food
establishments perpetrated by unknown persons over recent
years–incidents of windows broken, stink bombs set off and locks
glued. In no instance were people hurt or attacked and no evidence
linking the vandalism with the detainees has been offered. The
planned launch of an initiative for an Austrian constitutional
amendment about animal welfare has had to be postponed. It’s hard
not to conclude that was the objective of the police action.”
Schonfeld in 1973 produced The Animals Film, a documentary
narrated by Julie Christie, remembered as one of the major
influences in sparking the rise of the animal rights movement.
Alleged Association Against Animal Factories managing
director Harald Balluch, brother of Martin Balluch, “This police
action is designed to discredit the work being done for animals.
Through the police raids, our office along with four others has been
brought to a standstill. Our computers with our complete data bank
have been taken, along with all our mobile phones and years of
research material. We have no possibility of contacting our
supporters. Our phone and fax lines were also out of order for some
time after the raid, making contact with media impossible.”
Martin and Harald Balluch and their girlfriends shared a Vienna flat.
“I awoke to the sound of the door being broken in,” Harald
Balluch recounted in a written statement. “Immediately armed and
masked people surrounded my bed where my girlfriend and I were
sleeping and aimed their weapons at us. They screamed at me that
they would shoot me in the head if I moved. We have two elderly
rescued dogs, who were brutally manhandled. As you can imagine, all
four of us were absolutely terrified.”
“Balluch has a double Ph.D. in physics and philosophy, and
is a former colleague of Stephen Hawking at Cambridge University,”
wrote Schonfeld.
But Balluch is also a former associate of Barry Horne, a
British activist who was convicted in November 1997 of committing a
string of arsons against druggists, allegedly to protest against
vivisection. Sentenced to serve 18 years in prison, Horne died on
November 5, 2002, at age 49, after a two-week hunger strike, at
least his fifth hunger strike since his conviction. Involved in
animal advocacy since 1983, Horne had reportedly been arrested at
least five times and convicted at least twice before in connection
with “direct action” protest between 1988 and 1996.
Balluch recalled his acquaintance with Horne and
demonstrations he led on Horne’s behalf in recent interviews with the
online magazine The Abolitionist and the podcast radio series Animals
Voices.
Espousing a more cautious and selective tactical approach
than Horne and other militant British activists, Balluch has favored
classic civil disobedience over covert action, and has emphasized
doing mainstream political organizing to capitalize on favorable
publicity after actions that disclose obvious cruelty to animals.
In March 2003, for instance, Balluch conducted an “open
rescue” of seven hens from a farm in Kleinsierning. “There were six
chickens in battery cages which by law should have held only four,”
Balluch told media. “Dead chickens were rotting in the cages. The
rescued birds were seriously ill, and one had to be put down” by the
emergency veterinary clinic to which Balluch and a reporter took the
hens at approximately 3 a.m.
Balluch complained to the Austrian veterinary authorities.
The farmer was fined 200 euros and was ordered to reduce his caging
density. Balluch was convicted of theft, but the Austrian High
Court in June 2004 reversed the conviction, two weeks after the
Austrian parliament–responding to strongly favorable coverage of the
“open rescue”–passed a new national humane law that prohibits
battery caging.
Balluch in January 2008 lost a yearlong bid to have a
chimpanzee named Matthew Hiasl Pan declared legally a person, when
the Austrian Supreme Court rejected his last appeal. The chimp and a
companion, Rosi, lived at a now bankrupt sanctuary. Balluch sought
personshood status for Matthew Hiasl Pan as a test case, hoping to
prevent him from being sold abroad, beyond Austrian protection.
Matthew Hiasl Pan and Rosi were both captured in Sierra Leone in 1982
and smuggled into Austria for laboratory use, but were rescued by
Austrian customs agents.

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