Second day of the trial sees the further questioning of members, including Martin Sellner and Patrick Lenart.
Friday morning, the trial of 17 Austria (IBÖ) Identitarian activists and sympathizers continued.
A matter of literality
The state prosecutor, continuing from Wednesday his questioning of Martin Sellner, accused Sellner of internet “trolling” in an effort to “incite hatred”. Sellner, co-leader of IBÖ, however, remarked that these were merely “playful comments” on the net and were a harmeless way of expressing criticism. He further clarified that he “did not tolerate incitement of hatred”, quickly removing any genuinely hateful comments by others in the comments section of his videos.
The prosecutor then returned to the matter of the Turkish embassy roof action, in which the activists unfolded the banner: “Erdogan, take your Turks back home!” It was argued that this wording included all Turks. Sellner denied this, stating that this was solely directed at Erdogan himself and his supporters.
Committing no crimes
Next, the questioning of the co-leader, Patrick Lenart, commenced on his role as chairman and treasurer of Identitäre Bewegung Österreich, planning regular public meetings, events, and actions. On his motivations to form IBÖ, he elaborated: “I am a patriot and I want to help my country in a way that exceeds the mere act of voting”. The IBÖ he sees as the “ideal area of activity” for this.
On the aims of the Identitarian movement, he said that through lawful, peaceful activism, they were raising awareness and opening debate for problems like mass immigration, and stated that “committing no crimes” is a top priority for the group.
On the banner action at the Turkish Embassy, Lenart, reiterating Sellner, emphasised that they had been addressing not all Turks but only Erdogan’s supporters. Furthermore, IBÖ were not, as claimed, responsible for any criminal damage: they did not break the box holding the roof keys, he said, as it was not actually locked. The matter of one roof shingle being damaged, he could not explain. However, he confidently ruled out any intentional damage, as they were moving across the roof with great care, due to the height.
The rental of a storage container for IBÖ property in the city of Tulln was confirmed. Here the police had found sprayable chalk, stencils, paint, pyrotechnic flares, as well as stickers. Lenhart held that the paint was used exclusively to paint banners, and the chalk there had not been used at all. The stickers were given away at public meetings, but always with the clear request to be mindful of other’s property.
The Green Party headquarters action
Next was the only female member to face questioning, who was accused of property damage with spray chalk at the Green Party headquarters. According to her, she was at the action but only held a banner. The spray chalk had only been used to conceal tattoos on her hand.
She explained that she had been told of the action a day earlier at a public meeting, where the action was advertised as “street theatre”. Until shortly before it started, she had received no details about it.
According to her, Identitarian topics like mass immigration were important to her because she had had negative first-hand experience, witnessing sexual harassment by ‘asylum seekers’ in a pub in the town of Voitsberg. The prosecution replied that she should bring this matter to the police, which she eagerly confirmed.
Highlighting negative social developments
Finally, on this second day of the trial, Lenart returned to speak. The student of philosophy said he had co-founded the organisation because back then, a patriot was always attacked, verbally and physically, for his position. Examples he gave were the shattering of windows at an activist’s apartment and the arson attack on Martin Sellner’s car. Lenart told how he himself had lost his employment when they held an event at Votivkirche, after far left activists and even politicians directly pressured his employer into letting him go.
The main goal of the Identitarian movement Austria, he stated, was the “preservation of our ethnocultural identity”, with activism directed at highlighting negative social developments; criticism was never directed against persons or groups, but solely against ideas and politics.
The phrase “Islamisation kills” on the Green Party headquarters banner, he explained, were akin to other group slogans, such as “borders kill” or “racism kills”, which were used to promote the group’s respective agendas.
Multiculturalism under “systemic criticism”
For the action at Klagenfurt University, Lenhart detailed that they had selected the lecture because it promoted multiculturalism without “leaving room for critical opinions”. With their action, they had wanted to show how the politics of multiculturalism leads to parallel societies, which were the prime hotbed for radical, political Islam.
Upon the prosecutor’s question as to why they had not just joined the lecture in the normal way to enter a debate, Lenart answered that their point was not “personal”, but it was “systemic criticism” they were after. For that reason they had chosen this form of activism.
In response to the accusation of razorblades hidden under stickers, Lenart said that he assumed this to be a “false flag”, and that it was extremely unlikely that these were placed by an IBÖ sympathizer, since such things could only ever hurt the movement. The immediate reaction of IBÖ was to denounce this type of occurrence.
The trial is set to continue on Monday.
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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