On the third day of the trial, the main spotlight fell on the disruption of a university lecture in the city of Klagenfurt. Beside the defendants, the first witness was also called to testify.
This Monday, the trial of 17 activists and sympathisers of the Identitarian Movement Austria (GI Austria) continued with further questioning. As was reported by Austria’s public broadcaster ORF, according to the judge there was a plan to disrupt the trial. The main court room was intended to have been stormed by a yet unknown party, but the disruption was successfully prevented.
Video interview with Martin Sellner
To start off the third day of the trial, the judge showed a video interview with Martin Sellner. In this video, the co-leader of GI Austria presented the idea that “hating” and “trolling” are things which many different groups have in common and which are “part of Internet culture”.
Following on from this, the judge inquired if Sellner was a writer at Die Tagesstimme. No, he answered, but he’d been interviewed by them. He said that Die Tagesstimme was an “alternative online media platform” like many others, and was “not the mouthpiece of GI Austria”. Regarding his contacts to Pegida, Sellner said that he’d given speeches at Pegida rallies in Dresden. In his opinion, Pegida is a “patriotic protest movement”, whereas GI Austria was more of an activist organisation.
Responsible for activist education
After that, another founding member of GI Austria took the stand for questioning. The History student had been the chairman of GI Austria from 2012 to 2015 and later also press spokesman and leader of the theory study group “AG Theorie”. By his account, he quit GI Austria in order to pursue his degree. He had not participated in the actions which were relevant to the charge as he “didn’t have the opportunity”. Besides organising meet-ups and other events, his responsibility had been in preparing material for activist education, the 27-year-old said.
Joining an activist group rather than a political party
Next in line was the leader of the Vienna section of GI Austria. He had first heard of the organisation and first met with Martin Sellner in 2013. He explained that in 2014 he had moved to Vienna to study History at the university, which was when he first became active in GI Austria. While he found the identitarian movement’s activism appealing, he never had any interest in becoming a member of any political party.
He too had not been involved in the actions pertaining to the charge or involved in their planning. His involvement was limited to creating the banner that was used on the roof of the Turkish embassy and talking about the idea with others. The markings of the numbers “1529” and “1683” on the “plane tickets” used at the action – the years of the two Turkish sieges of Vienna – he explained were a “reaction to Erdogan’s own use of symbols”. The third number on the tickets was 2017. “Would you then say that conditions in Vienna were such as to call it a third Siege of Vienna?”, the judge inquired. “No, they weren’t”, the leader of the Vienna section replied.
Furthermore, he emphasised, as all identitarians so far had done, that activists and sympathisers had always been made aware of the importance of not causing damage to property with their stickers.
University principal punched?
After that, the focus shifted to the action held at Klagenfurt University. In 2016, identitarian activists had disrupted a lecture on the topic of refugees and migration. The action consisted of unrolling a banner with the text “Integration is a lie” and symbolically stoning a “patriotic Austrian”.
The first witness regarding this action was then cross-examined. According to his own account, he’d been on his way to the lecture hall when he saw multiple people fleeing the hall. The principal had tried to stop one of the activists by grabbing his arm, the university staff member testified. The activist had then responded by punching the principal in the stomach. “It was a clearly deliberate act”. However, he does believe that the punch was thrown after the activist had freed himself from the principal’s grasp.
Principal only “touched lightly”
The defendant, the regional leader of GI Austria in Styria, described the situation differently. The principal had torn the shirt belonging to another activist just before. He himself had only just freed himself from the principal’s grasp. He insisted that he had possibly “lightly touched” him “at most” while doing so. The judge then inquired why he had fled the scene. He said that he had run off because the principal was “in a state of rage”.
The judge then also wanted to know why they hadn’t participated in a debate held as part of the lecture. “If they had wanted a debate, they would also have invited critical voices”, the regional leader replied.
Spray chalk at the Green Party headquarters
During a different action held at the Green Party headquarters, chalk had been sprayed on the road. Patrick Lenart claimed that while he had made the stencils, he hadn’t been involved in the action itself. “I believe I wasn’t even in Graz that day”, said the regional leader of GI Styria. He claimed that he didn’t know who had sprayed the chalk on the road, because he had only taken pictures of it after it had been done.
Afterwards, the former regional leader of the Salzburg section was cross-examined. He had only held this position from the beginning of 2017 until August of the same year. Before that, he’d handed out leaflets and had participated in actions. “I wanted to get active as a patriot but without joining a political party”.
To continue on Tuesday
After the midday break, the regional leader of Upper Austria as well as two more sympathisers were called for questioning. The trial is set to continue on Tuesday with further examination of the defendants.
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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