Guilty. On July 22 German law-student Josef S. received a verdict of twelve months, of which he already spent six in pre-trial detention. He supposedly breached the peace, was condemned for attempted aggravated assault and serious damage to property during protests against the far-right Akademikerball (Academic’s Ball) in Vienna last January. What is worrying is the poor evidence for these acts and the disregarding oft he general principle of law according to which doubts benefits the accused.
In a state and system based on the rule of law, the judge should be convinced of the misdeed without a doubt. However, in this case the charge was based almost solely on infomration provided by a single policeman who attended the riots. Despite contradictions in his statements and those of other policemen, the judge dismissed the discrepancies as “explainable errors”. In fact, the description of Josef amounted to an image of “a left-wing riot tourist who had not travelled to Vienna to demonstrate against right-wing extremists, but rather to ravage the city with a group of anarchists”.
An image of a left-wing riot tourist was painted.
Heinz Patzelt, from Amnesty International Austria, later criticized the prosecutor’s attack as “highly problematic”.
Arguably, the process and verdict showed three things. Firstly, that witness evidence can be unreliable and should be treated this way. Secondly, how little one needs to do in the Austrian “Rechtsstaat” to be locked up and convicted of serious offences. And lastly how great the prejudice, if not even fear, is in the Austrian police and judicial system against left of centre activists.
It is important not to criminilaize anti-fascism as the ideology itself is not violent and political opinions in general must not be punished. One can also only hope that the judgment does not discourage other people to participate in demonstrations, which is a crucial aspect of a living democracy. Here it seems appropriate to quote the famous words of Edward Abbey: „A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government“.
Viewing it this way anti-fascist groups partly enter the role of patriots. A nomenclature most left-wing activists refute heavily. It also is the part of every concerned citizen to question and scrutinize dubious judgments of the kind of Josef S.