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Strengthening the pluralistic rule of law instead of restricting human rights

 

An Open letter to the government.

Dear Federal Minister Dr.in Zadić, LL.M.,
Dear Federal Minister Nehammer, M.Sc.,
Dear Mr Bürstmayr, Member of the National Council,
Dear Mr Mahrer, B.A., Member of the National Council,

 

The “Dokumentations- und Beratungsstelle Islamfeindlichkeit & antimuslimischer Rassismus (Dokustelle Austria) and all signatories condemn the November 2nd terrorist attack in Vienna.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims, survivors and bereaved'. In the face of such an act, social cohesion and a strengthened commitment to fundamental human rights is especially important.

However, in view of the government's "Anti-Terror-Paket" (Engl. Anti-Terror-Package)" presented by the government on November 11th 2020 and "Operation Luxor" carried out on November 9th, we fear massive infringements of fundamental rights and freedoms ofall people in Austria  as well as structural entrenchment of anti-Muslim racism.

 

Strengthening the pluralistic constitutional state instead of restricting n human rights

"People in Austria are already under enormous surveillance." . Sufficient legal provisions  already exist for the surveillance of persons posing a potential threat to public safety, which make it possible to prevent attacks such as the one of November 2nd. We, therefore, appeal to the government to focus on a comprehensive investigation  of the terrorist attack and the  authorities' failure and to refrain from extending existing surveillance powers and creating new criminal offences. Only a comprehensive inquest  into alleged misconduct committed by the authorities can restore confidence in the institutions and to draw lessons on how to prevent such attacks in the future.

 

In contrast, the measures now envisaged lead to the social, political and legal criminalization of Muslims. Many so-called preparatory acts are already punishable. We, therefore, fear that the introduction of the "criminal offences for the effective fight against religiously motivated political extremism (political Islam)" will effectively lead to the punishment of ideas and political attitudes instead of actual acts. At the same time, some of the proposed legal changes will massively curtail the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people in Austria.

 

According to legal experts, the proposed preventive measures against "perpetrators of a terrorist offence" create space for arbitrary intrusion into the liberty of people. Evidence-based and fully funded strategies are needed for the reintegration of former prisoners . 

In a recently published study by the NGO Südwind entitled ""Aktionsplan zur Prävention von gewaltbereitem Extremismus in Österreich""(Engl. Action Plan for the Prevention of Violent Extremism in Austria) special emphasis is placed on social and labour market-oriented reintegration to prevent reoffending.

We demand:

 

1. To refer form  introducing  the criminal offence "political Islam": There is no universally accepted academic definition of the term "political Islam". Rahter it  used is a vague termused broadly to describe  different groups with diverse ideological viewpoints. Consequently, the planned criminal offence can lead to an undifferentiated and even improper use of the term. This harbours the danger that all Muslims will be placed under general suspicion, monitored, persecuted by the executive, and maybe even threatened in their existence. This is equivalent to criminalizing political beliefs, which we strongly object..

 

2. Protection against discrimination and respect for religious freedom: 

State authorities should take the necessary measures to ensure that the freedom of religious practice of all religious communities is fully and equally guaranteed without being placed under state scrutiny (or surveillance) . This includes the freedom to organize religious life and freedom of expression of Muslim communities.

  • The federal government, as well as the responsible authorities, must urgently commit to and ensure that strategies to deradicalize and combat violent extremism guarantee protection against discrimination and the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression of Muslims.

 

3. Protection against criminalization: To safeguard freedom of religion, strategies to prevent violent extremism and deradicalization e and combat terrorism should consider the following:

  • Religious practices and appearance must not be used as indicators of risk of radicalization.
  • Mere affiliation to Islam, Muslim organizations or associations must not be used as selection criteria for monitoring by state authorities and security services.
  • Muslim places of worship  should not be blanketly placed under general suspicion.

 

4.  Oversight of intelligence services within the democratic constitutional state: More effective oversight  of all Austrian security and intelligence services in accordance with international best practices is needed. Part of this is expanding  the parliamentary oversight  with a duty to provide information about the services and criminal offence status for false testimony before this oversight body. Strong whistle-blower protection is necessary, as this guarantees that abuses can come to the fore. The abuse of investigative and monitoring methods of the security and intelligence services must become a   criminal offence by law. Together with the separation of police and secret service competencies, a consistent system of judicial oversight  and reporting requirements must be introduced in both areas to prevent non-transparent power centre.

 

5. Regular external evaluation of strategies for the prevention of violent extremism and deradicalization as well as strategies to combat terrorism, in regards to  constitutional conformity, the intensity of encroachment on fundamental rights (especially privacy and data protection),  effectiveness and anti-discrimination.

  • The evaluation should be conducted by independent human rights organizations in cooperation with civil society organizations, such as anti-racistorganizations, academics,  data protectio experts and religious communities.
  • The results of such an evaluation should be presented to Parliament and made available to the public.

 

6. Creation of an institutional, operational and personnel independent complaints body which This body should offer frontline  and procedural support to people whose fundamental rights and freedoms have been violated by strategies to prevent violent extremism, deradicalization and counter-terrorism.

 

7. Expansion of services and contact points: offering support for the reintegration of persons released from prison who have been convicted of terrorism and have served their prison sentences.

 

8. Expanding core funding for civil society and community-based strategies against all forms of extremism and exclusion: These are to be designed and implemented in close cooperation with experts from the fields of social work, education, psychology and science.

 

9. Expanding  services of youth and social worker as well as political education and participation: Racialised people in Austria  need to have equal access to participate in democratic processes barriers; this will provide a foothold to young people in particular.

 

10. Prohibition of state spy software and state hacking in Austria: The integrity of information technology systems must be guaranteed in a democratic constitutional state. Fundamental rights must also apply in the context of modern technology. Any attempt to weaken IT systems through targeted attacks or implanted weak points (encryption ban) endangers general security and the trust in technology upon which our society and economy depend today.

 

11. The deprivation of Austrian citizenship cannot be part of a strategy to combat terrorism: In revoking citizenship, a state evades its responsibility, which leads to a weakening of the rule of law. The stripping of citizenship in the case of dual citizenship and the concomitant shift of responsibility for prosecution and conviction to another state can weaken international cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Statelessness should be avoided at all costs.

Yours sincerely,

Selected pictures from the press conference