In the famous animal acitivsts trial 13 animal welfare acitivists were aquitted of the charge of being part of a criminal organization and of all other charges. §278a penal code (criminal organization) was also changed in a way that the legal work of NGOs shall not be criminalized anymore.
But for 5 activists the juridical farce continues. According to the verdict of the Higher Regional Court announcing a legal and peaceful info campaign to a company (because they sell fur products in this case) is coercion. This verdict would make every campaign of Greenpeace, Four Paws, etc. illegal since also these organizations announce and start legal campaigns against questionable businesses of certain companies. The E-Mails in which one of the activists announced legal (and constitutionally protected) demonstrations are polite and obviously no dangerous threat. Even the management of the companies thought the same, because they themselves claimed that they did not take the E-Mails serious, so they couldn’t even see any dangerous threat and ignored the topic – until the legal demonstrations became annoying to them because people were informed about fur products and which companies still sell them.
In the context of the first animal activists trial (as “Tierschützerprozess” known in Austria) the management of the company “Kleider Bauer” called the Interior ministry (because of an acquaintance in the ministry) and already the next day a special commission was set up to monitor every move of over 100 activists. That there was no evidence at all for any crime this didn’t stop anybody, especially not the quite delusional prosecutor, to start a trial anyway.
The activists were aquitted, millions of tax money wasted, and people economically ruined (because Austria doesn’t have to repay aquitted people the legal fees) but the prosecutor wants to see the activists imprisoned, so he appealed against a part of the sentence. Reading the verdict of the Higher Regional Court it seems like a very desperate try to justify the waste of tax money at all costs, even if that means, peaceful activists have to go to prison. It even is democratically very questionable because assemblies (like demonstrations) are a basic right and because all basic rights are equal, the interests of companies cannot be made superior to other causes (neither the other way around).
It can clearly be seen that in Austria those who have the most money or better even, successful companies, can also influence the legal system indirectly and partly directly. Instead of legal consequences for real criminal organizations (for whom the §278a was constituted), like companies that ignore human rights, environment, animal welfare, etc. people who seem threatening to the business with violence by speaking up for non-violence, are criminalized.
§ 278a, also called Mafia-Paragraph, was changed, so that NGOs who support ethical interests and participate only in peaceful campaings (demonstrations, infotables, handing out leaflets, etc) and therefore want to influence politics and economy, can't be criminalized anymore. The wording "considerable influence on politics and economy" was removed from the Mafia-Paragraph. The conservative party tried to stop this process, because, as they claimed, they want to have a legal method against (animal) activists who work against the industry (meat industry, pestizide industry, fur industry, etc). All the other parties, though, voted for adapting the Mafia-Paragraph to the principles of a democracy.
The ÖVP (conservative party) then stated that there will still be other ways to get rid of activists threatening the industry (and the powerful).
Animal welfare is since 2013 part of the Austrian constitution, although the wording is quite weak in order to be able to still legally exploit them. The conservative party tried to stop that attempt as well and was successful 17 years!
Fur production is illegal in Austria since 1998 because of ethical reasons (probably no need to mention that the conservative party had other plans).
About the trade with very questionable and even unnecessary products like fur, exotic animal skins and also about animal cruelty in factory farms or during hunts, this constitutional policy doesn’t change a lot.
Although legally animals are not considered as things, they still can be treated like things. And although most people in Austria don’t accept the fur trade and despite of the constitutional animal welfare policy the Higher Regional Court calls animal welfare an "abstract value with no necessity of response" (the expressions are very hard to translate because partly they were invented by the Higher Regional Court). This argument they use to explain that animal rights activists have no right to announce peaceful demonstrations.
Sign the petition on the homepage of the VgT (Association against Animal Factories) to stop the repression against animal activists and normal NGO work: http://www.vgt.at/actionalert/repression/petition/index_en.php