The men – from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India – received suspended prison sentences of between seven and 28 months, the majority of which have already been served in custody. An eighth man was acquitted.
There were accused of operating a criminal organization in which people from their home countries were smuggled into Europe.
Protesters had gathered outside the court with signs that read “escape is not a crime” and “smuggling saves lives”. The verdict provoked cries of “shame on you” and “there is no democracy” from the public gallery.
After going through the evidence, which included 4,000 wire tapped phone conversations, the prosecutor admitted that the men were not running a money-making business but that nevertheless they were still guilty of the crime.
The defence, Lennart Binder, said that the men “were not a criminal organisation, they shared a common destiny with the people they were smuggling”. He said that they helped other refugees in exchange for a little money, a place to sleep, or something to eat.
He argued that the trial was politically motivated as four of the defendants had camped out with 40 other asylum seekers in Vienna’s Votivkirche last year, protesting against Austria’s asylum laws.
They wanted the right to work permits while waiting for their asylum applications to be processed, as well as an end to deportations.