Two Wikileaks-sympathisers were charged for walking too slowly in front of the U.S. Embassy
Saturday, April 30th: In front of the American Embassy (in Austria) two people move in slow-motion. Vienna resident Raphael Wegmann and his sister-in-law unhurriedly put one foot in front of the other. Wegmann, whose actual job is software developer, was wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: „Free Bradley Manning.“ The shirt of his sister-in-law, a physician, read: „In a time of universial deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.“ A quote by George Orwell, arguably the most important surveillance critic of the last century.
The police charged them both. The injunction says they showed „very ruthless behaviour“ and „unsettled proper order in a public space unjustifiably“ because they „stayed resp. moved slinkingly for some minutes in front of the American Embassy“, because „cyclists and pedestrians had to sidestep“ and because they „did not stop in spite of an explanation (…) about the increased security demands in front of the Embassy“. The police station Josefstadt considers this to be a violation of the Security Police Law, clause 81, disorderly conduct.
It was not disturbance of the peace, but a legitimate protest, according to Wegmann. On April 30th he wanted to protest against the incarceration of private Bradley Manning in front of the US-Embassy in Boltzmanngasse, Vienna. Manning was locked up in July 2010. He is accused of being the informant of Wikileaks, having supposedly leaked all the secret diplomatic cables as well as said military video recording showing a US-attack helicopter shooting at civilians to the whistle-blower website.
Walking slowly and printed T-shirts, that’s how those two Viennese expressed their irritations. The US Embassy states that they were not involved in the case. The police, who are guarding the Embassy around the clock, filed the charges. When several policemen approached them, a longer discussion followed, after which the report was made. The details of the descriptions of the police officers and the accused deviate. They disagree on whether the two were walking side-by-side or in front of each other, and whether other passers-by actually were hindered or not.
„The officer observed that pedestrians and cyclists had to sidestep“, is how Mario Hejl, spokesman of the police in Vienna, explains the charges. Which is not final yet. „Mr Wegmann has the option to appeal against it“, says Heijl. In this case the administrative court (UVS) will decide.
This is what Raphael Wegmann is going for. For him it is a matter of principle, not about money. Because the fines of both Austrians amount to 50 Euros per person only. The computer engineer hired a laywer. „Of course I could simply pay those 50 Euros. That would be cheaper for sure“, he says, „but I cannot accept that. Is it already forbidden to walk slowly in front of the US Embassy? And if so, which form of public expression is still allowed?“