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.
Identitarians’ trial to continue next week
At the identitarians’ trial in the city of Graz, the cross-examination of the remaining defendants is now complete. The trial will continue on Wednesday next week with the cross-examination of further witnesses.
On Tuesday, the trial of 17 activists and sympathisers of the identitarian movement in Austria (GI Austria) continued at the Criminal Court in Graz. They are being charged with “forming a criminal organisation”, incitement to hatred and property damage, as well as one count of coercion.
On the roof of the Green Party headquarters
On the fourth day of the trial, the court completed the cross-examination of the remaining defendants. The first defendant to be questioned this morning was a man from the region of Carinthia who had been involved in both the action at Klagenfurt University as well as the one at the Green Party headquarters in Graz.
He stated that he had first learned about the identitarian movement on Facebook. For the action in Graz, he’d brought theatrical fake blood and zip ties up to the roof in his backpack, helped to unroll the banner, and dispersed the fake blood across it. He had not known the text on the banner and the contents of the accompanying speech until the event.
The phrase “Islamisation kills” on the banner was said to be a criticism of radical, political Islam and of the open borders policy. The action was not directed against Muslims or against Islam as a religion, the defendant emphasised.
“Patriots being excluded”
Regarding the action in Klagenfurt, the man said that the core message of the symbolic stoning of an “Austrian patriot” was to highlight how patriots were being affected by mass immigration and Islamisation. Patriots were being excluded from media reporting and any criticism of this was not accepted.
After the action, he said he had left the lecture hall straight away and as such had not witnessed any altercation with the principal of the university.
Because the Green Party “supports mass immigration”
Next to take the stand was a mature student from the city of Graz. He justified his involvement with GI Austria by stating his wish to “improve the freedom of expression in Austria”.
He had heard of the action in Graz only a few days prior to the event. The Green Party’s headquarters was chosen because the party had been a driving force behind the “open borders policy” and was a “supporter of mass immigration”. The “uncontrolled mass immigration” would then amplify “creeping Islamisation”, the 33-year-old said. The phrase “Islamisation kills” was designed to mimic common phases used in political protest (Editor’s note: e.g. “borders kill”, “racism kills”, etc).
According to his testimony, he had become less involved in GI Austria after the action because of his age and because of his studies, and he had not participated in any other action since.
Commotion at the Klagenfurt University stunt
The next of the defendants, also a student, had learned of GI Austria in 2015 while he was stationed at the border town of Spielfeld while doing military service. At that time, the number of migrants crossing the border was so high that no identity checks were being carried out. After a protest by GI Austria in Spielfeld he had done some research about them and their ideas. Up until the action at Klagenfurt University, he had only occasionally been going to meetings.
A few days before the action he’d got a message about it on Whatsapp which contained only very basic information. His job had been to keep the door to the lecture hall open so that people could leave early in case of a commotion, the defendant told the court.
The accused also stated that he had seen a man wearing a jacket entering the lecture hall. This man had loudly demanded the activists leave the hall, pulled out his phone, and grabbed the defendant by his T-shirt. Then, the GI activists had left the hall and he was pushed, which caused him to lose his balance and fly into the door. During the course of all this, the principal of the university had torn his shirt.
The next two defendants were also questioned about the action at Klagenfurt University. They both testified they had been notified of the action via Whatsapp.
Stickers distributed only in “small doses”
The last to speak before the court was another founding member of GI Austria, who had been the regional leader for the Salzburg section. His responsibilities had been organising meetings and information stands, applying for permission to carry out public demonstrations as well as procuring materials. He had not been involved in the actions in Graz and Klagenfurt.
On the topic of stickers, the regional leader testified that stickers had only been distributed at meetings in Salzburg in “small doses” and for “private use”. Nevertheless, the defendant emphasised that they had always maintained that property damage should be avoided.
More witnesses to be heard next week
Now that the court has finished the hearing the defendants earlier than expected, the trial is set to continue on Wednesday next week, when more witnesses are expected to appear.
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