Today, the eagerly awaited trial of 17 activists from Generation Identity Austria (IBÖ) began at the Regional Criminal Court in Graz. There is still widespread incomprehension regarding how it got this far in the first place.

The first day of the trial marks the start of a legal marathon, with a total of 19 court hearings to be held in July. The activists are accused, among other things, of forming a criminal organisation (§278 Austrian Criminal Code [StGB]), incitement to hatred (§283 StGB) and property damage (§125 StGB). The trial is also possible due to an amendment to the law in 2015 which explicitly included hate crimes as an offence that could be perpetrated by a criminal organisation.

Ex-Supreme Court of Justice President Griss: “Like breaking a butterfly on a wheel”

The former president of the Austrian Supreme Court of Justice (OGH) and now MP for the liberal Austrian party NEOS, Irmgard Griss also sharply criticised the prosecution. If, as in the present case, it is purely about the dissemination of ideas, she considers the prosecution as a criminal association “too sharp a sword”. One would have to be careful not to punish people for their beliefs by “breaking a butterfly on a wheel”.

Criminal law expert warns against “criminal convictions”

Other legal experts such as Helmut Fuchs, Professor of Criminal Law, see the proceedings as problematic. The former head of the renowned Department of Criminal Law at the University of Vienna does not see any proof of hate crime in the indictment. This law, which requires the “incitement to hatred” or the call for violence as a condition would be “very indefinite” anyway. He sees the danger of this provision being used for “ideological” purposes and thus becoming a “thought crime”.

Bernd-Christian Funk, Professor of Constitutional Law, is similarly concerned about this. He considers both of the underlying crimes in the legislation to be “very broad”. Instead, he wanted the authorities to be able to “keep an eye on groups like Generation Identity Austria.” without bringing the guillotine down on them.

SPÖ & FPÖ: justice spokesmen criticise indictment

Immediately after the announcement of the indictment, several well-known journalists criticised the intended use of a law intended to combat organised crime. Soon after that, certain politicians also voiced their objections. The spokesman on legal matters of the Austrian Freedom Party, Harald Stefan, perceived the actions of the prosecutor as “incomprehensible” and said that democracy must “endure so much” [activism], Die Tagesstimme reported.

For the Austrian Social Democrats’ spokesman on legal matters, Hannes Jarolim, the indictment under §278 StGB represents an “abuse of the law”, as stated a few weeks ago. He is certainly no fan of Generation Identity Austria, nevertheless, he observed with concern that “prosecutors are increasingly resorting to instruments which are actually meant to combat ‘mafia structures'”. Before the start of the process, he repeated his criticism and also called to mind that there are currently investigations being carried out in Austria under this paragraph against a group of Erdogan opponents.

Die Tagesstimme reports from the trial

In the opinion of some critics of the prosecutor, the forms of action used by Generation Identity Austria do not differ significantly from those of other NGOs such as Greenpeace. A conviction, in this case, could, therefore have far-reaching consequences for the culture of political protest in Austria. A few years ago, however, a much-publicised lawsuit against ten animal rights activists belonging to the Association against Animal Factories (VGT) under this paragraph ended with all defendants being acquitted.

Trial dates are: 4th July, 6th July, 9th-13th July, 16th-20th July, 23rd-27th July and 30th-31st July, from 9am to 3pm.

The action that is at the core of the indictment:

The argument used by IB against this is:
Islamisation is not a religion.