Austrian authorities accused of violating Muslim children’s rights during police raids

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz Editorial credit: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock.com

Austrian lawyers and NGOs have accused the Minister of the Interior of failing to protect children from criminalisation and trauma following police raids on Muslims after the terror attack in Vienna last November.

An open letter addressed to Karl Nehammer and signed by lawyers and NGOs demands that an investigation be launched into the raids and that the responsible authorities be held to account.

On November 11, 2020, more than 930 police officers launched 60 early morning raids against Muslim homes which did not lead to a single person being charged or arrested. No weapons were seized during the raids either.

The raids, which seem to have targeted Egyptians and Palestinians, took place just over a week after a series of shootings in Vienna in which four people were killed and 23 others were injured. The attacker was killed by police and was identified as an ISIS sympathiser.

Austria’s right-wing government subsequently announced a range of anti-terrorism measures and pledged to ban “political Islam.”

But according to the Assisting Children Traumatised by Police organisation, during the November 11 raids 62 children under the age of 18 were traumatised and victimised.

it said 93.8% of children reported suffering from ongoing psychological trauma as a result of the raids, with some even showing early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Parents have reported that their children continue to have severe nightmare and suffer from insomnia and scream as well as cry at night.

One affected boy said: “I was scared, panicked, shocked…everything. I wake up and someone is pointing a gun at me and yelling at me…” A young girl said: “I’ve never felt so  unsafe in my life, especially in my own house.”

The open letter was initiated by Assisting Children Traumatised by Police (ACT-P) and signed by Black Voices People’s Petition, Bundesjugendvertretung (Austrian National  Youth Council) and Dokustelle Österreich among others.

It states: “We write to you as civil society actors, as well as legal representatives of those impacted by Operation Luxor (the raids) in order to raise concerns about legal violations – especially children’s rights violations. The families of the innocent people that have been violated during this operation and indeed the public at large, have a right to know the facts in relation to the conduct of the operation and its conformity to Austrian and international law. We demand accountability of those responsible for their neglect of obligations to protect children from criminalisation and trauma.”

A spokesperson of ACT-P added: “This is a critical moment for the protection of children’s rights in Austria, and it is up to us to act now to stop further rights violations and ensure justice for our children. The child rights violations, which in this case belong exclusively to a religious minority, appear to have been the result of a state-directed racist and Islamophobic campaign and are incompatible with human rights and democratic principles.”

There are around 700,000 Muslims in Austria out of a total population of nearly 8 million people. Around 50% of them are of Turkish origin and there is also a sizeable community from the ex-Yugoslavia.

In recent years Austria has taken several anti-Muslim measures. In 2015, when current Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was Austria’s Minister for Europe, he backed legislation that, among other things, banned the foreign funding of mosques and imams in Austria. The controversial law, which eventually passed through Parliament, was intended to develop an Islam of “European character,” according to Kurz. He also said the move was a crackdown on political Islam.

In 2017, the Austrian government issued a new law banning Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public places. The “Burqa Ban” states that faces must be visible from hairline to chin in public places and also includes off-slope ski masks and surgical masks outside of hospitals. Muslim women wearing the niqab and burqa in public places can be fined 150 Euros on the spot.

And in 2019 the Austrian Parliament approved a law banning girls in primary schools from wearing the hijab. The law received support from the governing coalition of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz‘s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), whilst almost all of the opposition voted against it.

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