The Identitarian Movement Austria has been charged with „forming a criminal organization”. The defense remarked critically this charge is purely aimed at silencing the Identitarian Movement and ruining them financially.
Since Wednesday morning, 17 activists and sympathizers of the Identitarian Movement Austria (henceforth „IBÖ”) are on trial and have to testify in court. In the opening statement the state prosecutor accused the activists of „forming a criminal organization” under §278 of the Austrian Criminal code; following up with sedition, damage of property, as well as coercion in one case.
Incitement to hatred
The prosecution opined that the IBÖ is „inciting hatred against certain groups” with their activism and degrading the public reputation of migrants and Muslims. Also, they hinted at the „well organized” and „strictly hierarchical” structure of leadership of the identitarians, which is stratified by nation, state and district.
Besides their activism, the IBÖ ist said to have sold merchandise. From 2015 on they had allegedly radicalized themselves.
„We’ve been looking the other way for far too long”
During the trial the focus will be especially on the happenings on the rooftops of the Greens Party office in Graz and the Turkish embassy in Vienna, as well as the action inside an auditorium of the University of Klagenfurt. In 2016, identitarian activists in Graz had unrolled a banner reading „islamization kills” on the rooftop of the Greens party office and doused it with red food dye. On top of the Turkish embassy they later dropped a banner reading „Erdogan, take your Turks back home!”. At the university in Klagenfurt, a lecture was interrupted by activists carrying a banner and a megaphone.. Multiple participants of the interrupting party were dressed in full Islamic veil (Burqua).
One more case of concern to the trial was in eastern Styria, where the stickers that had allegedly been applied by identitarian activists to the doors of two restaurant, whose owners happen to be of Turkish origin.
„We’ve been looking the other way for far too long with all this hate speech”, the prosecution declared in their opening statement.
„The accusation of hatred is completely unhinged”
Following the prosecution, the IBÖ’s defense attorney denied all the allegations, pointing towards the „noble value of free speech”. The wording „islamization kills” on the banner is a necessary emphasis for protest and objection. The Pope himself which had used the wording „economy kills”, the attorney noted. To conclude then that the IBÖ wants to claim that every Muslim is a murderer, is simply wrong.
Also, for the action at the Turkish embassy, the defense objected that the phrase „Erdogan, take your Turks back home!”, was not directed against all Turks, but against the Turkish premier minister Recep Tayip Erdoğan. Politicians like Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, or Efgani Dönmez had already voiced similar opinions. „The accusation of hatred is completely unhinged”, the defense criticized.
Furthermore, the the burkas that were used during the action at the university in Klagenfurt were simply a symbol of political Islam..
„Silencing” the Identitarian Movement Austria
The claim of property damage was also met with staunch disagreement by the defense. To the prosecution’s notion that paint and sprayable chalk were found in the possession of some identitarians, the defense countered that „he better now prosecute little girls playing hopscotch in the street for having formed a criminal organization”.
It is then the opinion of the defense that the trial’s main purpose is to silence the Identitarian Movement in Austria and to ruin them financially.
Questioning of Martin Sellner
As the first of the accused, founding member and co‐leader of the Identitarian Movement Austria, Martin Sellner, appeared before the judge for questioning. He went on to elaborate on the forming of the group and their aims, emphasizing, that they had always „acted nonviolently”. It is the declared purpose of the Identitarian Movement Austria, to facilitate an „honest and fear‐free” climate of debate, and to carry patriotism into society. As example for their activism, Sellner named the environmentalist organization Greenpeace.
Another topic was Sellner’s political past and his connection to the society around Gottfried Küssel. The co‐leader of the movement Austria confirmed having had contacts to this scene in his youth, noted however, that no ties remain from that time.
Sellner claims, that the Identitarian Movement in Austria has around 300 activists that participate in actions and events. Adding to that, there were hundreds of financial backers.
The next court days are: 6th July, 9th–12th July, 16th–20th July, 23rd–27th July, 30th–31st July, with each court date going from 9AM to 3PM.
The Identitarian Movement on trial: The reasons they were acquitted
On Thursday morning, the verdicts were announced at the trial of GI Austria in Graz. All defendants were acquitted on the main charges. The reasoning given for this verdict is in itself remarkable.
On the tenth and final day of the trial held in the city of Graz against 17 activists and sympathisers of Generation Identity Austria (IBÖ), everything revolved around the judge’s verdict. All the defendants – 16 men and one woman – were found not guilty of forming a criminal organisation (Section 278 of the Austrian Criminal Code) nor hate speech (Section 283). As the Tagesstimme reported earlier, just two of the group were sentenced to pay a fine for property damage and assault.
Verdict: „Main actions were legal activities at their core”
The judge gave his reasons for acquitting the defendants by establishing, among other things, that the content of the contested claims could be interpreted in more than one way. The banner on the rooftop of the Green Party HQ in Graz did not constitute a criticism of Islam, but of the policies of the Green Party and of radical Islam. Concerning the action in Klagenfurt, the judge argued that the defendants, too, had merely pointed out the dangers of political and radical Islam, which indeed was made clear at the time of the action. A slogan declaring integration to be a lie must therefore be understood as being directed against “misguided policies”, and not against integration per se.
As the criteria for the offence of ‘hate speech’ had therefore not been met, this would also be applicable in the question of forming a criminal organisation: “If an organisation carries out actions which are legitimate in the eyes of the law, then it is not a criminal organisation, even if offences may result from it”, the judge stated. Property damage on its own doesn’t constitute GI Austria being a criminal organisation, the judge concluded. According to the law, property damage has to go beyond a certain threshold for an organisation’s ability to be classified as a criminal organisation.
Prosecution: Defendants “no patriotic front, but a front of cowards”
Before the judge was able to give his highly anticipated verdict, the prosecution and the defence delivered their closing statements. The prosecutor repeated his accusations, and offered some harsh words towards the defendants. According to his view, they make themselves out to be a “group of law‐abiding people”, yet “continuously break the law”. In his opinion they formed “no patriotic front, but a front of cowards”.
In the view of the prosecutor, the identitarians “made no distinction between Islam and radical Islam”, because it were easier to spread hate. Furthermore, he called the defendants “pseudo‐moralists, who pretend to be protecting the state”. He interpreted the fact that the only female defendant had joined the group only a short time before as a sign that he was dealing with people “who are not regarded as the elite in the movement” – and referred to an alleged hierarchy within GI Austria.
Defence sees “the legal clause being perverted”
The defence, who pleaded for all defendants to be acquitted on all charges, was unwilling to accept this summary. In his opinion, it constituted a “vilification of the defendants”, and “spite” of this kind was a sure sign that the prosecution’s arguments were weak. This were also documented by the way the prosecution had made such a big issue out of just a few stickers. Involving the only female defendant in the proceedings, who according to her statements was barely involved in the action in Graz, constituted a “perversion of this legal clause”.
Also, he did not consider the offence of hate speech to have been committed, and referred to the statement made by the Kurdish pizzeria owner in Feldbach – who, unlike the prosecution, were to have understood the content of the slogan used by the identitarians. Furthermore, the defence recalled how one of the witnesses to the action in Klagenfurt had a radical Islamist past – it was “unbelievable that something like this is quasi tolerated”. Counsel for the defendants held that they “had in no way crossed the line”, and could thus not be found guilty of hate speech.
No criminal organisation: Identitarian Movement acquitted
This Thursday morning in Graz, the verdicts were announced in the case involving the Austrian chapter of Generation Identity. All defendants were acquitted of the main charges against them.
Seventeen activists and sympathisers of Generation Identity Austria (IBÖ) had to face the charge of forming a criminal organisation (§278 StGB), among other things, in a massive court case. Now it is official: GI Austria does not meet the criteria of a criminal organisation, meaning that all parties were acquitted, as well as on the charge of committing hate speech (§283 StGB).
Fines for two defendants
Nevertheless, two defendants still got guilty verdicts on minor charges. They were convicted of assault or property damage and were fined 720 and 240 euros respectively. The verdict is not yet legally binding.
Identitarians on trial: witness clears activists of property damage charge
At the resumption of the trial of identitarian activists in Austria, the main focus was on the personal notes written by GI Austria co‐leader Martin Sellner and the testimony of an intelligence officer.
The trial of 17 activists and sympathisers of the Identitarian Movement Austria (GI Austria) continued this Wednesday at the Criminal Court in the city of Graz. The activists are being charged with forming a criminal organisation, as well as incitement to hatred and damage to property.
Notes and scribbles take centre stage
The day began with the state prosecutor confronting GI Austria co‐leader Martin Sellner with notes that had been obtained during a police raid on his apartment. “It is war, fighting tooth and nail, for every street, every city, every country”, read one excerpt from the notes. Sellner maintained that these were private notes and scribbles that had been stored on his PC for years, and which were never meant for publication. One more excerpt from the notes read, “Let’s take Vienna back, block by block, step by step.”
The judge noted how often Sellner had used the word “war” in his videos. He replied that he had always used it in the sense of “war of information”, and as a call for “political activism”. The GI leader emphasised repeatedly that GI Austria’s brand of activism had “always been non‐violent”.
Spray chalk and 45 euros in damages
Subsequently, an employee of a painting business was called as a witness regarding the allegation of property damage committed using spray chalk in front of the Green Party’s headquarters. According to the police’s files, the cleaning costs had added up to a total of 300 euros. The witness could not explain how the costs had got this high. One of her colleagues had been able to remove the chalk without any issues. She then estimated the actual cost at 45 euros.
Intelligence officer called as witness
A high‐level official from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT), an Austrian intelligence agency, was called as the next witness. The BVT had been involved in the case since 1st March 2017 at the request of the state prosecutor. They had been tasked with referencing existing files and inspecting evidence for chargeable offences.
It was the cause of some bewilderment when the intelligence officer could not produce a reliable definition of “right‐wing extremism” when asked by the defence. Regarding the investigation into GI Austria’s alleged violent tendencies, the officer stated that he couldn’t elaborate any further on that matter. Nonetheless, no evidence on any violent tendencies had been found. The judge inquired into the difference between the FPÖ (Freedom Party) and GI Austria – both used the similar terms of “population replacement”, and “the Great Replacement” in their rhetoric. The intelligence officer stated that contrary to GI Austria, the FPÖ was using these terms for political discourse (e.g. in election campaigns).
The trial continues on Thursday at 10 am and the verdict is expected before the end of July.
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