Historic Not Guilty Verdict for Open Rescue
July 12, 2004 Austria
Dr Martin Balluch from the Austrian Association Against Animal Factories (VGT) was today found NOT GUILTY by thee High Courts in Austria for openly liberating 7 chickens from a battery farm. The following is Dr Balluch's account of this historic court ruling:
In March 2003, we started our eventually successfull campaign in earnest to get battery farming banned in Austria. As a first action, I went at midnight into a battery farm in Kleinsierning, near St. Pölten, Lower Austria, together with a journalist and rescued 7 chickens. The chickens were brought to an emergency veterinary service at 3 am. Afterwards, the action was covered very positively in newspapers and TV.
The battery farm was run completely illegally: there were 6 chickens in cages which legally allowed only 4 birds, there was dirt everywhere and a number of dead chickens rotting in the cages. The 7 rescued birds were all seriously ill and one had to be put down by the vets. Pictures of the rescue and the report in German can be seen here.
I reported the battery farm to the authorities together with video proof of the conditions and the breaches of the law. Soon after we occupied the offices of the governor of the province of Lower Austria, as he had refused to meet us on the issue and as it was obvious that the authorities were not reacting to our complaints. After 5 hours being locked on to his office furniture and having some dead chickens from the battery farm presented on a desk, the governor did speak with us in a very positive way. He promised that something would happen in this case. Photos and story.
In the following a state vet visited the battery farm and found that there were too many birds per cage and other regulations were breached. It also revealed that 1 month before my visit to the farm, there had been formally a control visit of the farm by state vets. That proves that controls have no relevance, a strong argument which politically lead to the installation of animal solicitors in the new animal protection law from 1st Jan 2005 onwards.
In a court case, the farmer was convicted and made to pay 200 Euro! And he had to remove 25% of his chickens out of the cages. He appealed against this decision and the appeal case will be heard on 21st July 2004.
At the same time, the farmer started a private prosecution of me for trespass and damages. The trial is still going.
Also, the state prosecution started criminal procedures against me for having removed property out of the ownership of the farmer: the 7 chickens. He gave them a value of 15 Euro. In turn, I had paid the veterinary treatment for the birds, which had cost 10 times that amount.
The state prosecutor offered a deal: she would drop the case if I was willing to appologize and pay the farmer 15 Euro. I refused. She phoned me and was very aggressive on the phone threatening to get me convicted if I did not bow to her demands. I still did not.
On 9th February 2004, the district court refused all my 9 witnesses, refused to look at the video footage and found me guilty after a trial lasting 40 minutes. Just before reading out the verdict, she again offered to let me go free if I was ready to appologize and pay 15 Euro. I was looking at a maximum penalty of 6 months prison if found guilty. I did not appologize but said I am convinced I did the right thing. Then I received a fine of 60 days prison equivalent to 450 Euro plus court costs and damages to the farmer. Report in German.
We informed the media, and state TV did an 8 minute piece where they had tried to interview the judge, who did refuse, but the head of her courts tried to defend her decision by saying it was not clear that the video was actually from this battery farm. The TV crew also interviewed people on the streets showing them the footage of the rescue and all people supported the action and said that it is outrageous to find somebody guilty for doing something like that.
On 12. July 2004, my appeal to the criminal court conviction was heard at the high courts. We presented my case arguing that animals are no things according to the law and that it was a justified emergency rescue which could not have been achieved through informing authorities or any other means with less damage to the farmer.
The 3 judges found me NOT GUILTY. In a historical verdict they argued that albeit I did break in and did remove property from the farmer, the new animal protection law underlines that society at large agrees with my activity and that I did act rightly and with good intentions in liberating the hens!!! Report in German.
The atmosphere in society with regards to nonhuman animals is seriously changing! Another milestone is achieved. A high court ruled, basically, that breaking in and stealing animals from a factory farm is not a crime. A precedence case with consequences which we cannot fully comprehend at the moment!
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