Austria’s draft anti-terror law provokes sharp criticism

The Austrian justice ministry said Wednesday it would take into account fierce criticisms levelled by judges and the opposition at proposals for an anti-terror law formulated following a deadly jihadist terror attack.

Austria's draft anti-terror law provokes sharp criticism
Police in Vienna after the 2020 Austrian terror attack. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

In the days after the convicted sympathiser of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group killed four people in central Vienna in November, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) promised tough new anti-terror legislation.

The official review period for the draft legislation ended on Tuesday.

Its central articles would allow for released terror offenders to be monitored “electronically”, which is not further defined. It would also create an offence of “religious extremism,” which experts say is redundant due to existing criminal law.

“The way it is now, there'd need to be serious revisions,” the president of the Austrian Judges' Association, Sabine Matejka, told AFP Wednesday.

“This was drafted in an extreme rush – it would usually take several months of consultation and discussions with experts” before a draft was even put forward, Matejka said.

Justice ministry spokesperson Julian Ausserhofer told AFP that the criticisms were “being examined” before the draft is brought to parliament.

Previous elements of the draft, such as a proposal to introduce “preventive detention” were dropped after concerns they would be illegal and raised the ire of the Green party, the OeVP's junior coalition partner.

“This (law) is a manoeuvre to distract from systemic failures within the interior ministry,” Selma Yildirim, the justice spokesperson for the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe), told AFP.

ANALYSIS: Vienna terror attack was 'only a matter of time' 

The interior ministry was strongly criticised in the wake of the November attack for failing to monitor or detain the gunman, despite authorities being alerted that he had been in contact with Islamist radicals from neighbouring countries and had attempted to buy ammunition in Slovakia.

Proposed reforms of the law regulating Islamic religious activity, in particular the proposal for a mandatory register of all imams, have been criticised by representatives of the Muslim community and by church leaders.

The November gunman was shot dead by police as he carried out his attack in a popular nightlife area of Vienna, on the eve of the country going into a partial coronavirus lockdown.

The attacker was just one of about 150 individuals who have returned to Austria after attempting to or succeeding in joining the Islamic State in Syria or Iraq, making the small nation of fewer than 9 million home to one of the largest per capita rates of IS fighters in Europe. 

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‘Decomposing smell’: Austrian police called due to smelly shoes

Austria's police department said they were called to an apartment complex in Vienna after a person was concerned about a "smell of decomposition".

'Decomposing smell': Austrian police called due to smelly shoes

This week, the Viennese police department started a weekly ‘series’ of sharing interesting stories on their social media accounts

Calling the series ‘Misunderstanding Wednesday’ (Missverständnismittwoch), the very first post is about a call they received to an apartment complex after a concerned citizen complained to emergency services about a “smell of decomposition in the staircase”.

READ ALSO: Stephansdom: Vienna woken up after hacker sets church bells to ring at 2am

The alleged corpse, it turns out, was just the neighbour’s smelly shoes which were left in the building corridor, in front of their apartment.

The police didn’t say when exactly the incident took place.

“When our colleagues are called because of the ‘smell of decomposition in the staircase’… and notice that the stunk is from the neighbour’s shoes which were left in front of the apartment door”, the official Twitter account of the Vienna police department reads.

‘When in doubt it is an emergency’

The authorities were light-hearted about the misunderstanding, even sharing a “meme-like” picture on their social media accounts, saying “some missions turn out to be different than initially assumed”.

READ ALSO: Austrian police warn public about new ‘fake cops’ scam

However, they reiterated that the misunderstandings should not deter people from calling 133, the emergency police number. They added that in case of emergencies and even if you are not sure, the authorities should be called and they will assist you.

“Note: in case of doubt, it is an emergency”, the Vienna police department says. “Never be afraid to dial the emergency number.”