Covering events from January-December 2001

Republic of Austria
Head of state: Thomas Klestil
Head of government: Wolfgang Schüssel
Capital: Vienna
Population: 8.1 million
Official language: German
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes

At least two gay men were imprisoned; they were prisoners of conscience. There were continuing allegations that police officers had ill-treated detainees and used excessive force. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published the report of its 1999 visit to Austria. A date was set for the trial of three police officers in connection with the death of the deportee Marcus Omofuma in 1999. A man died in questionable circumstances in prison. In the aftermath of the attacks on 11 September in the USA, there were discussions about tightening up Austria's asylum procedures and alien legislation.

Unequal age of consent

There was heightened debate within Austrian society surrounding Article 209 of the Criminal Code. This sets the legal age of consent for heterosexuals and lesbians at 14 years of age, but that for gay men at 18. Gay men convicted of contravening Article 209 faced up to five years' imprisonment.

  • On 24 August, Vienna-Neustadt Regional Court sentenced a 36-year-old gay man to 15 months' imprisonment, of which 14 months were suspended, for having consensual sexual relations with his 17-year-old boyfriend. The state prosecutor's office contested the verdict, reportedly on the grounds that it was too lenient, and on 23 October, Vienna's Court of Appeal sentenced the 36-year-old man to a further four months' imprisonment.
  • A gay man was arrested on 14 February, accused of having consensual sexual relations with a 15-year-old adolescent. The man remained in pre-trial detention until 27 February when a judge at Vienna Regional Criminal Court, which had issued the original arrest warrant and had authorized his detention thereafter, ordered his release, instructing him to pay compensation. At the end of the year this ruling was being contested by the state prosecutor's office.
Allegations of police ill-treatment

Allegations that police ill-treated detainees and used excessive force persisted. In June, the CPT published the report of its third visit to Austria in September 1999, reflecting a number of AI's concerns. On the basis of its fact-finding visits to a number of police jails, police stations and gendarmerie posts, the CPT recorded a number of complaints of police ill-treatment, although "... compared with the allegations received during earlier visits [in 1990 and 1994] the instances were less numerous and the ill-treatment less serious". Nevertheless, the CPT stated that the continuing allegations of ill-treatment clearly warranted vigilance on the part of the authorities. The majority of the complaints of ill-treatment encountered by the CPT during its 1999 visit were made by foreign nationals who alleged that they had been punched, kicked and slapped, especially while handcuffed. Police ill-treatment was most commonly alleged to have occurred at the time of arrest.
  • In May, Vienna's Independent Administrative Tribunal upheld the allegations of a 25-year-old demonstrator, referred to as Martin P. in the Austrian news media, that he was ill-treated by police officers on 4 February during an anti-government demonstration, during which there were some reports of violence. A photographer from the Austrian Press Association had photographed the incident, reportedly clearly capturing on film several police officers repeatedly striking Martin P. with their batons as he lay on the ground.
  • In July, the Independent Administrative Tribunal in Vienna stated that police officers subjected a detained demonstrator to a "humiliation ritual" by cutting off a 30cm piece of his hair with a knife, after knocking him to the ground. AI received several reports that police officers used excessive force against demonstrators or, in some cases, ill-treated them during an anti-government demonstration on 22 February in Vienna during which there were a significant number of violent incidents.
Safeguards against ill-treatment

In its report of its 1999 visit, the CPT made several recommendations to strengthen safeguards against ill-treatment. Most notably, any medical examination of a detainee should not take place within hearing or seeing distance of police officers, unless this is specifically requested by the doctor. In addition, people suspected of a crime should have the right of access to legal counsel from the moment of their arrest, a right not always accorded in Austria.

Death of Marcus Omofuma

March 2002 was set as the start-date for the trial of the three police officers accused of the ill-treatment of Marcus Omofuma which resulted in his death. The 25-year-old Nigerian asylum-seeker died on 1 May 1999 after being gagged and bound during his forced deportation from Vienna to Nigeria, via Sofia, Bulgaria. In May the results of a third autopsy conducted by a German specialist were made public and appeared to reinforce the findings of an initial autopsy conducted in Bulgaria shortly after the death, that Marcus Omofuma had died of asphyxia as a result of being gagged.

Abusive restraint techniques

A 56-year-old prisoner, referred to as Ernst K. in the Austrian news media, died in Krems-Stein prison during the night of 15/16 June. At the time of his death Ernst K.'s hands and legs had reportedly been strapped to the sides of his bed. The decision was made to restrain him after he reportedly experienced psychological difficulties. He was reportedly left completely immobilized until the following morning when prison officials found him dead, reportedly as a result of an obstruction to the intestines.

AI country reports/visits

  • Concerns in Europe, January-June 2001: Austria (AI Index: EUR 01/003/2001)

An AI delegate visited Austria in April and met representatives of non-governmental organizations and lawyers.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.