Reports & Researches

(Witness): The Austrian Government’s Procedures towards Muslim and Palestinian Activists Violate Basic Rights Guaranteed by Law

(Witness): The Austrian Government’s Procedures towards Muslim and Palestinian Activists Violate Basic Rights Guaranteed by Law

With the aim at intimidation for Political Reasons, and a Call to Preserve Austria's Human Values

(Beirut, December 2020)

Palestinian Association for Human Rights (witness)

First: Why This Report?

Palestinian Association for Human Rights (witness) via this report seeks to:

1. Shed lights on the violations suffered by humanitarian institutions, associations and political activists who support the human issues in general and Palestinian issues in particular, without real legal bond.

2. Highlight on humanitarian associations that were raided and which are considered living source upon which thousands of children and sick and disabled people depend.

3. Show positive aspects for Muslims in general and the Palestinian community in particular and the extent of positive integration at all levels.

4. Draw attention to the importance of confronting the far-right trends in Europe

5. Confirmation on the importance of human rights in dealing with Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular, who get away from places which their rights being violated dangerously

Second: What are the basics on which the report relied?

1. The report relied on testimonies provided by the victims or their families about what happened to them during and after the raid. Some of our interviewees did not want to be named, and we respect their request.

2. The report relied on accurate electronic monitoring for everything related to the campaign (monitoring for reports, data, Austrian formal interviewees, and journalism conferences.)

3. It relied on the Austrian constitution and the respect it includes for rights and freedoms.

4. It relied on monitoring for the legal status of the characters who were arrested and for the organizations and associations that were raided.

Third: Essential Introductory

Islam in Austria is the second largest religion in the country, and it is practiced by 8% of the total population, according to 2016 estimates, Austria has always been known as one of the country's most open and accommodating of Muslims and practicing their religious rites. In light of "Islam law” in 1912, which belongs to the royal family of Habsburg at the time, Austria has been one of the numbered Western countries that legally recognized Islam as a religion, and there are 205 Approved mosques in Austria and hundreds of praying places.

There are four mosques in the country with minarets. There are also many Islamic organizations in Austria.

·Islamische Glaubensgemeinschaft (Islamic religious commission in Austria) the organization has two founding members and they are "the Turkish Austrian Islamic Union” and "Islamic union”.

·The Muslim Youth Organization in Austria and its a member of the Austrian Federal Youth Council part of Bundesjugendvertretung and its primary focus on the dialogue between religions, with Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, and other religious groups in the country. "The Muslim Youth in Austria” also runs campaigns against racism and xenophobia. Last year, they won third place in the Carl Youth Prize of the European Union, for their project entitled Muslims against Anti-Semitism.

·The Austrian Muslim Initiative is led by the engineer Omar Muhammad Nur al-Rawi, an Austrian politician who belongs to the Austrian Social Democratic Party, and is currently a member of Vienna's parliament and a member of its municipal council.

With Ascensus of the far -right parties, which work on shrink the Muslim's rights and besieged, and under Slogan of the extreme right” Islam doesn't belong to Austria” these parties garnered the votes of Austrian voters in early elections in 2017. Muslims in Austria, for example, from their sources, were subjected to 309 racist attacks during 2017. This came in a report prepared by "the Center for Documentation and Guidance for Austrian Muslims”. and the center explains that 98% of the attacks targeted Muslim women.

On November 9, 2020, Austrian police raided 70 homes in four gatherings, against the backdrop of arrest warrants for 30 people. In a preliminary legal review, these raids were found to have been accompanied by violations of human rights principles.

On 12 November, Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz made statements about a "package of anti-terror laws" during a press conference with his cabinet ministers. Austria also announced that it intends to introduce a criminal offense called "political Islam", as part of a set of procedures aimed to anti-terrorism. It is unlikely that the new package of laws, according to statements by Austrian officials, came against the background of an armed attack in the capital, Vienna, on November 2, which killed 5 people, including the perpetrator, and injured 17 others.

Fourth: Organized human rights violations against Muslims in Austria

On Monday, 9-11-2020, the Austrian security authorities carried out a wide range of raids at five in the morning, in which nearly 1,000 officers and soldiers from the special forces in the police and internal intelligence participated, targeting associations and individuals suspected of having links to political, media and social activities related to the Palestinian cause. The raids targeted 60 apartments, houses, and associations' headquarters in 4 states, and arrested 30 people. The Public Prosecution announced that the campaign was "not linked" to the attack that occurred a week before this campaign in the capital Vienna, which resulted in the death of 4 people.

The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (witness) has monitored, through testimonies provided by victims, and through electronic monitoring and human rights follow-up, many human rights violations, which list as follows:

·Violations of the privacy of homes and their late-night break-in.

·Terrifying children and causing psychological problems.

·Psychological and physical torture of some families suffering from diseases.

·Close personal bank accounts by order of the Attorney General.

·Excessive use of force (using stun grenades - shooting - pointing weapons to families while they are asleep)

·Reserve the cash financial property.

·Some computers and smartphones were confiscated and some were forced to open them.

·Violent procedures of shooting, heavy searches, and tampering with contents.

The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (witness) confirms, according to the information available to it, that the work environment for the owners of the houses that were raided is varied, and many of them work in public affairs. Some of them are a cleric, a university professor, and directors of humanitarian organizations, and some of them are very ordinary citizens who are related to the "accused" and some of them are sick. In addition to terrorizing and spreading terror in the hearts of children, the Austrian authorities used disproportionate force and late at night, which confirms that this step comes in the context of a systematic policy of intimidating a certain group under the heading against the Muslims of Austria.

If none of the targets committed a crime in the legal sense, then what can justify this approach from the iron fist and this campaign against legal entities that carry out humanitarian work of all kinds and for a long period? Why are innocent citizens' personal and business bank accounts shutting down at a time when families are under massive financial pressure due to Covid-19 restrictions and closings?

Austrian political activists, we interviewed see that this campaign is not based on legal basics, but rather it is a political campaign par excellence resulting from several reasons. Including the rise of the European far-right in general and the Austrian far-right in particular, and some of which are the result of pressure from Arab countries that have a great interest in confronting political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular,

Also some of them are an extension of the French campaign launched by the French President against Islam or an extension of the French law that is being discussed in the French Parliament, "comprehensive security", and some of them are the result of chronic and continuous Israeli pressure against political activists who support the Palestinian cause.

In this regard, Austrian political activists recommend political and media activism, to consider the campaign carried out by the Austrian government not based on the values ​​of justice, freedom, and respect for human rights, but rather on political goals.

Fifth: Live Testimonies.... Excessive Use of Force

Among those who saw heavily armed counterterrorism personnel broke-into their door at 5 a.m. on November 9 was a 67-year-old woman who says: "The glass door of the family’s small house in the city of Danube was smashed, and they searched it carefully, seized her and interrogated her for hours. " The allegations and accusations are heavy, including that the woman belongs to the Hamas movement, in addition to being accused of financing terrorism and supporting communication with party's hostile to the state.

Mrs.: "I no longer understand what is going on in the world. My confidence in the Austrian authorities has been deeply shaken, and most importantly, the allegations are not true at all."

Dr. Farid Hafez, a professor of political science at the university who lives in Vienna in the Leizing district says: "They came to my house at five in the morning heavily armed, and attacked the house and broke the door and one of the windows with great violence and they took my children out of bed and took them outside the house in their pajamas. To me, this was completely unjustified. "

He asked,” "Why is he not able to see the files of his accusation, and if the police have transparency, why they do not tell him what they have?"

Sheikh (ED), the imam of a recorded Vienna mosque, says: "It was like a thunderbolt at us, at five to ten minutes it knocked on the door with tremendous force. High, they put me to the ground with all violence and terror, one of them threw me violently on my knee and stepped on my knee, and I was in pain and screaming: You kill me, I am in pain, I am in pain, I continued like this for 4 minutes. I almost breathed my last breath, and I felt that my ribs had penetrated my guts.

My children (9 years and 15 years old), my wife, and two sons (19 years and 21 years old) lived three hours of extreme terror, during which they carefully searched and tampered with the contents of the house, during which they confiscated all electronic devices and left nothing of them. They confiscated all the private money and left nothing to pay the rent from it, otherwise rudely, and even the trusts deposited with me confiscated it.

I was taken to the police for investigation for nearly eleven consecutive hours without stopping.

I have been an imam for 23 years and head of the Arab Islamic Cultus Shura Council in Austria.

I have never violated Austrian laws, I advocate tolerance and moderation, and I am fully integrated into Austrian society. I have my political opinion on some matters, but I express it without calling for or practicing violence and I reject all forms of extremism.

My children are in a state of extreme shock and anxiety and have not known normal life since then. I do not know how these children will regain their childhood after all that happened and who will compensate them for the psychological harm they have suffered.

Testimonies Presented at the Press Conference Held by the Austrian Mercy Association on Monday 21/12/2020

Mr. Taher Hassan, President of the Austrian Mercy Association, says, "The association is a humanitarian and non-political relief association. Since 2006, the association has accomplished an unlimited number of humanitarian work. The association supports projects for orphan children, homeless people, destitute and needy individuals, and refugees, regardless of religion or "Nationality, ideology, or skin color. The association's only principle is to assist people most in need."

"In 2019, the association opened two Palestinian refugee schools with 210 male and female students in Lebanon and Jordan. Also, 120 wells for drinking water were dug in 9 countries in Africa and Asia. In addition to distributing 1900 sleeping bags for the homeless in Austria. On the other hand, the association distributed 121,000 Food parcels and monthly cash assistance for 2,000 orphan children and the distribution of 5,000 aid annually. The association helps refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, and most of its activities focus on these camps. All our actions comply with the decisions and laws in force in Austria. We were expecting support and assistance from the Austrian government and not guidance the political accusations against us of terrorism and the raiding of our headquarters and our homes. "

"Because of the procedures taken by the Austrian authorities, children can no longer obtain this aid. The families who benefit from our services have asked many questions about what will happen to the children and families after that and who will help them."

The association’s president, Mr. Taher, affirms, "The relevant authorities in Austria periodically check the financial situation of the association, which has not had any defects or reservations but has obtained its approval. All our financial reports and our annual activities are available on the Internet.

Mr. Taher adds that "since the ninth of November 2020, we have lost a lot of donations because the police confiscated the association's data, froze the association's financial assets, and anti-state charges were also charged. Our association's logo bears the Austrian flag, which is visible in all our activities and materials everywhere, even the staff clothes bore the Austrian flag and the association's logo".

"We will use our legal right to file a complaint before Austrian fair courts because we are sure that these accusations are groundless and are completely false."

Personal Testimony of Professor Taher Hassan

"Because of the authorities’ allegations, my house was raided on 11/11/2020 at five in the morning, and a large number of heavily armed police entered, where I, my wife, and my two minor children, who's ages three and seven years old, and a 6-month-old baby were sleeping.

We woke up on a sound of an explosion, surrounded by a group of heavily armed police, who told me to lie on my stomach.

My kids were shocked. They were taken to their mother, and they were not allowed to leave the room during the entire period of the house searching. Laptops and computers were confiscated and to this day, they have not been returned.

My wife told me that my 7-year-old daughter was in tears when the police officers left the house. She was brought from school twice because of her nervous breakdowns affected by the events and scenes of the raiding of the house.

Since the raiding, my children suffer from sleepless nights accompanied by nightmares, so I would like to point out that this act that my wife and children were subjected to by the Austrian police is inhuman. And they are now victims of police violence."

Statement of the auditor of the Austrian Mercy Association, Mr. Friedrich Baldinger

Auditor Friedrich Baldinger confirms, "There is an absolute certainty that all funds used have been used as intended in crisis areas. Despite these difficulties, we as auditors do not see any evidence that would allow any decision to be made to use donations to finance terrorism and terrorist groups. We also assessed the fact that aid money was transferred abroad either through the Austrian banks or through cash transfers that were duly registered with customs.

On the other hand, the matter of most concern was the confiscation of commercial documents and electronic equipment, as well as the freezing of bank accounts, which in fact led to the disruption of the activities of the Austrian Mercy Association and every week that passes, the presence of the aid organization is severely compromised. "

The statement of the lawyer Mr. Farid Refaat

Mr. Farid Refaat, who defends the Austrian Mercy Association and some of the individuals affected by the case, explains some facts:

First:This campaign that took place on 9 November after the terrorist operation incorrectly suggests that this campaign took place after the terrorist operation, which left the impression that those affected have a relationship with the terrorist incident, and this is contrary to the truth and there is no link between the terrorist incident and these associations.

Second: many charges pointed against individuals are incorrect, there is something strange about this case as it being considered by the Supreme Court and the Public Prosecution, and that the accused and their lawyers have no right to view the case and know the charges against them on the pretext that these files are secret.

Third: How can the accused defend himself if he does not know what the charges against him even though the Crimes Law states that the accused has the right to know the charges against him and defend himself.”

Mr. Rifaat confirms, "This police campaign took place on 9/11 brutally and we heard that many policemen were heavily armed with heavy weapons and broke into homes by breaking doors without warning at five in the morning during the week. Children were asleep, even adults were asleep. Either people were forced to sit on a chair or lie on the ground; this is an unparalleled and unequal act. It was not in coordination with the Public Prosecution and the Supreme Court and this act was barbaric and irresponsible.

Testimony by Mr. Fritz Edlinger

Mr. Fritz Edlinger, a representative of an Austrian non-governmental organization working for the Austrian-Arab relationship, affirms, "There is no logical or legal relationship between the terrorist attack in Vienna and the police raid, as the police raid was prepared on the orders of the Public Prosecutor Vedras more than a year ago. I mean, it was not a spontaneous act, it was a planned action against Muslims to defame them as terrorists”

Fritz said, "The police raid is based on false facts and allegations, and the police raid was aggressive, humiliating, and offensive to the accused. Interestingly, the questions asked during interrogation had nothing to do with the police raid allegations, as the questions were designed to offend certain people from certain religious communities. Among these questions:

·Should men and women be equal?

·Does your wife wear a veil?

·According to Sharia, a Muslim woman may not marry a Christian, Jew, or non-Muslim Do you agree?

·Can your son marry a non-Muslim woman?

·Do you determine your son's wife or daughter husband?

The questions go in a clear direction, and they are defamation and intimidation. Some individuals have absolutely nothing to do with the alleged allegations, and these people have a constructive dialogue with the government. However, It appears that this campaign is not related to constructive dialogue with Muslims, but rather to discrimination and criminalization of Muslims in Austria. I would like to add that this is not a campaign by the Attorney General’s office only, but a campaign by the Austrian government. There are two groups targeted in this campaign, the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand, and the Palestinian Hamas movement on the other hand.”

Sixthly: Muslims (Between Societal Positivity and the Attempt to Eradicate)

Important Austrian Muslims:

Mona Dzdar is an Austrian politician of Palestinian origin and an independent lawyer. She was a member of the Austrian Federal Council between 2010 and 2012 and between 2012 and 2016, a Member of Parliament and the Vienna City Council, and in 2016 held the portfolio of Minister of State in Christian Kern's government.

A Palestinian immigrant was given a golden police badge to save an officer’s life:

"I am a Muslim and I am proud of what I have done, this is not Islam. The Islam that we learned from the Prophet Muhammad did not consist of this." These were the words of Osama Judah, a Palestinian immigrant to Austria, who was awarded the golden police badge to save the life of an officer days before the country launched a security campaign targeting the Muslim community, including raids, arrests, and serious charges.

Besides, many Muslims are working in public schools, academics, doctors, and officials of associations, and they were affected by the campaign organized by the Austrian government. The campaign also affected several former officials of the Islamic religious authority in Austria.

In another scene, Austrian security officers were interrogating Muslims whose peaceful way of life was suddenly disrupted after they were dragged to the police station from their homes without warning or evidence of a crime they had committed. They were questioned about their religion, sect, and opinion on the application of Islamic law, Israel, Hamas, female genital circumcision, and the veil in a way that assumed they had indeed committed a crime.

The aforementioned scenes reflect two broad paradoxes that reflect a great contrast between the intentions of the Muslim minority and the practices of the security services, which increasingly tendtowards the far - right. The first scene celebrates the pride of a Muslim who lives in Austria and shows his devoted respect for the security of others despite the danger that he may face and regardless of his religion and identity. While the second indicates the seriousness and severity of the measures taken against the Muslim community, to the point of questioning their loyalty and the sincerity of their feeling of belonging and giving to the homeland.

According to the Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nihamer: "The security operation launched by the police aims to cut off the roots of political Islam", indicating that the issue is related to a campaign linked to a political position or religious orientation, and has nothing to do with specific legal violations.

The raid appeared to be politically motivated and mired in many human rights violations.

Security operations directed against religious belief or political orientation constitute a serious violation of the right to freedom of belief and freedom of opinion and expression, which is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as Austrian domestic laws that guarantee freedom of belief and expression.

These practices constitute a violation of the freedom of expression, embrace, and thinking, and impose a security force to arouse suspicion and intimidation from practices prescribed by law. The political orientations to dissolve associations or institutions and close mosques, without real legal justifications, are considered a form of collective punishment, and political exploitation of terrorist incidents.

Seventh: The fears that (witness) expresses about the Austrian government's actions:

1. The decline in public freedoms and human rights in Austria.

2. Collective punishment of certain groups because of belief or suspicion of belonging to organizations or institutions.

3. Racial discrimination against Muslims, especially after the far - right came to power.

4. Attribution of false accusations as part of a plan to fight political activists supporting the Palestinian cause under the broad name of political Islam.

5. Endangering the lives of some activists.

6. Disruption of activists' economic life and social activities.

7. The direct negative impact on marginalized social groups that used to benefit from the benefits of closed institutions, especially those under occupation or refugees.

Eighth: Summaries

The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (witness) praises the Austrian Constitutional Court's abolition of a law banning the veil and considering it unconstitutional, and the court said that the law violates the rights of religious freedom and leads to the marginalization of Muslim girls.

(Witness) concludes from the information contained in its report that the Austrian government's procedures toward Muslims amount to "collective punishment" and that there are systematic violations of human rights aimed at politically motivated intimidation, and presents the most important conclusions within the following points:

1. If there is a common denominator among all those targeted by the raid campaign, it is that they all campaigned for humanitarian causes, especially the Palestinian cause.

2. It is unfair for the Austrian authorities to consider that any person who expresses support for Palestinian rights or works to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian refugees, or provides shelter or clothing to Palestinian orphans, must be a supporter of any political ideology or political party and be seen later as a suspect.

3.The raids against Muslims in Austria were punctuated by grave violations of political grounds, and encroachment on rights guaranteed by international and local laws.

4. There is no connection between the Austrian youth terrorist operation on 2/11/2020 and the campaign of raids and arrests that the Austrian authorities carried out on 9/11/2020.

5. These practices constitute a violation of the freedom of expression, embrace and thinking, and impose a security force to arouse suspicion and intimidation from practices prescribed by law.

6. There is a concern for the Muslim communities in Europe, especially the Palestinian community that advocates for their cause.

Ninth: Recommendations

While the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (witness) strongly rejects any terrorist attacks and affirms its full solidarity with the victims, it condemns any attempt to exploit this to commit grave violations of a discriminatory nature against specific groups on the grounds of religion, affiliation, or ideological belief. From here, it calls to:

1. Preserving the human and human rights values ​​that Austria enjoyed over the past years.

2. The Austrian authorities to review procedures and decisions that considered as systematic violations of the rights of Muslim groups in Austrian society.

3. Resorting to the Austrian courts and the Supreme Court, as well as to the European Court of Human Rights.

4. Carrying out a large-scale human rights campaign to confront the far - right and networking with the political, social, and cultural components of Austrian society.

5. Demanding international and human rights organizations to urgently intervene with the Austrian authorities to retract the procedures under the heading of the political Islam law.

6. Inviting the media to shed light on the reality of Muslims, their bright aspects, and their treatment in their societies.

Beirut, December 23, 2020

Palestinian Association for Human Rights (witness)