An Overview of What Has Happened During the Court Sessions from March until November 2014

Translator’s note: This text is dealing with specific judicial language as well as quotes from
the files and the biased police translation of specific terms to German. It was
originally written in German and sometimes there exists no adequate English translation
for the language used. To make the manipulative police strategies as visible as possible, the
original German terms remain in the text and their meaning is explained in the footnotes.

The trial against eight persons who were accused of people smuggling within a crimi-
nal organization started in the middle of May. The accused were questioned in the first
couple of days of the trial. But already on day one, an interruption occurred: In the
courtroom were three interpreters, two for Urdu resp. Punjabi and one for Farsi. At the
start of the hearing, judge Petra Harbich announced that there are only a handful of
legally confirmed interpreters for Farsi available and that the present one just has
knowledge of the language but is not an interpreter confirmed by oath. During the
playback of one of the monitored phone calls, federal prosecutor Gunda Ebhart asked,
how to translate the word “Schleppungswillige”¹ to Punjabi. Both of the Punjabi
interpreters explained that no word exists for this specific translation. Then the Farsi
interpreter explained that the phone call was “schlepperrelevant”² and that this was
the reason it was translated that way. It turned out that the interpreter was part of the
Soko Schlepperei³ for many months, taking part in the phone call monitoring and
surveillance. For this reason she felt confident in deciding about whether a call was
“schlepperrelevant” or not, without once hearing the words “Schleppung”⁴, “Schlep-
pungswilliger” or “Schlepper”⁵ in the call. After this, the defense lawyers applied for the
summons of all those interpreters who were working on the translation of phone calls
during the preliminary proceedings. On the next day of the trial, the Farsi interpreter
was replaced.

One of the defendants pleaded not guilty, the others pleaded partly guilty, stating: “Yes,
I did help someone.” Being questioned about incriminating statements in their police
interrogations, some of them negated ever having said these things and added that
some of their testimonies had not been retranslated to them. Additionally, they pointed
out that oftentimes they were threatened by the interrogating police officers and that
the officers were showing them photos of their participation in demonstrations of the
Refugee Protest.

After five days of trial and further questioning of the defendants, the judge must have
finally understood that the bill of indictment could not deliver the facts to back-up the
charges demanded by it. After adjourning the trial to have time to organize the chaotic
police records, she advised the lawyers to apply for a release of the six defendants who
were still in jail at that time. The next day this motion was anticipated by the state
prosecutor who by now (after half a year of investigative custody) also saw a “dispro-
portionality” of the prison term. All defendants were released on the 27th of March.

Interrogation of the interpreters
Because of the incredibly chaotic police files the trial’s continuation was postponed
to the beginning of May. It started once more with the interrogation of the police
interpreters. The translations are an extremely important part of this trial as all of the
indictment is based on telephone surveillance which means on the resulting-translat-
Quite quickly it became evident that the work of the interpreters who were working
with police during the investigation was not only poor and faulty but also tendentious,
selective and prejudgemental. The investigating police had a massive influence on the
translations. It was common practice that the interpreters translated orally and then
the police decided which parts were important and in which context they were to be
put. All this while the surveillance transcripts in the police files pretended to be word-
for-word translations.
The first interpreter, Diba Sayed, stated to have translated statements (on which the
prosecution heavily relied) like: “The people have come” to: “The Schleppungswilligen
have come” because the conversation was defined as “schlepperrelevant”. The interpret-
er, who is working with police since about five years, stated to have never heard of the
presumption of innocence⁶. According to this, the applied practices did not raise any
doubts in her.

Also the second interrogated interpreter Rahim Sayed, Diba Sayed’s brother, was main-
ly knowledgeable in Dari and Farsi but also translated to Urdu and Punjabi. Despite of
working five years in the field of police interrogations, he did not manage to literally
translate the legal instructions which explain the defendants’ rights before the start
of their hearing, to Punjabi. Also both of the consecutively interrogated interpreters
Rafi Ahmad and Hammad Rafi (father and son) did not deny the fact that words like
“Schleppungswillige” never appeared in the original conversation (there is actually no
literal translation for this word in Punjabi) but that these terms were interpreted out of
the conversation’s context. Additionally, terms commonly used in Pakistan like “Mitr”
(universal term for people from India) and Pathan (universal term for people from
Afghanistan or northern Pakistan) were handled like specific identifiers resp. “aliases”
of persons presumably involved and were also tied to the defendants.
Criticism of the interpreters’ practice of constructing and filtering “schlepperrelevant-
es” instead of translating word-by-word received little if any attention from the trial’s

Questioning of the interrogating police officers
Later on there was the questioning of some of the police staff. Group inspector Martin
Unger and district inspector Rudolf Kranz as well as the supervising inspector Bern-
hard Korner were the investigating officers of the Soko Schlepperei and therefore the
most important witnesses in this context. It is interesting to note that, once it was clear
Unger, Kranz, Korner and the police interpreters were going to be interviewed, there
was a constant presence of members of the Soko Schlepperei in the audience during
the questioning of the witnesses.
During the interrogation, it became obvious how the chaotic pile of records came into
being. The Soko had two investigations running more or less parallel to each other.
They were only merged after the arrests by the Wiener Neustadt Regional Court.
Martin Unger pointed out that one of the defendants was included into their investi-
gation after having attracted attention in another investigation and that this lead to the
consecutive expanding of the telephone surveillance.

This other investigation was based on a testimony given in Traiskirchen. The witness
incriminated one of the defendants who was then observed by the police. The witness’
motivation for his testimony was not reviewed by police at any moment, additionally
he withdrew the testimony in court. There are eligible reasons for the witness’ bias due
to past conflicts. Moreover it turned out during the trial that legal proceedings against
other suspects were suspended. The reasons for this remained unclear, it obviously was
not related to the quantity or quality of the existing evidence.
Concerning the defamation produced by the media after the arrests, Martin Unger
merely stated that the Soko never released any info about a pregnant women supposed-
ly left behind during a smuggling operation. There must have been a confusion at the
Ministry of the Interior⁷.
The only relevant “evidence” on which the prosecution based its accusations, were the
phone surveillance records. Alongside, there were meaningless individual monitoring
records that were not visibly included in the files and police officers who were referring
to their “work experience”. While it seemed that the main goal of this “experience” is to
identify everything as suspicious what is done by people with a precarious status of res-
idence: It is suspicious to meet in the Votivpark as the goal of this obviously must have
been to avoid surveillance. Additionally, just to be acquainted with a specific person is
already incriminating. The question why certain people were stopped and checked by
police at the Meidling trainstation after apparently immediately being recognized as
people smugglers, was as well answered by referring to the officers’ “work experience”.

The other part of this “experience” seems to consist of learning how to write a file in
the most incriminating way. Uncommented photos were attached to the file, showing
a person with a lot of cash, even though police had already decided in the preliminary
proceedings not to include this person in the case. A diagram showing the phone
connections of the defendants also showed numbers of people who have not been
monitored at all. Exculpatory material on the other hand never found its way into the
file. There was little attention given by the judge and the state prosecution to the grave
translation errors being revealed during the trial, they continued as if nothing hap-
pened. A vicious circle came into being: One person is suspicious for knowing another
person, for instance in Hungary. This person from Hungary then on the other hand is
suspicious for knowing a person in Austria.

Modified indictment and the playback of the monitored phone calls
Before the summer break in August, the state prosecutor Gunda Ebhart changed the
indictment because various phone calls were used twice as evidence which led to an
“overlapping of facts”. The indictment was not reduced however, even though recent
trial days suggested this to be a necessity. Ebhart canceled not even a handful of the
more than fifty points of the indictment and reformulated the others in a way that
made them become even more vague. Instead of being accused of helping people to en-
ter Austria, now they were being accused of helping with entering and passing through
the country. Instead of helping to continue the journey to Germany, now it was about
helping to travel to any other country of the European Union. This, however, did not
diminish the vast amount of “overlapping of facts”.

In September, all the summoned witnesses had been questioned. After now more
than twenty days in court, the judge started to go through the various charges of the
indictment and listen to the police-recorded phone calls or read out the corresponding
translations, questioning the defendants concerning their content.
This procedure lasted until November, more than ten days in court. The last step was
to go through the rest of the undiscussed files to close the main hearing with the final
speech of the defense and the prosecution on the 4th of December, the 42nd day in

¹ Schleppungswillige: People who are willing to be smuggled
² Schlepperrelevant: Relevant in the context of people smuggling
³ Soko Schlepperei: Task Force People Smuggling. For more info, check the text on the task force in this
⁴ Schleppung: People smuggling
⁵ Schlepper: People smuggler
⁶ The principle that the defendant be given the benefit of the doubt.
⁷ Defamation in the media helped to justify the controversial deportation of eight protesting refugees in
summer 2013. Among other things it was reported that, during their operation, people smugglers had left
behind pregnant women without any support (the whole trial shows not one bit of evidence suggesting
such incidents).