Austria updates

August 2022

No update

July 2022

  • Leading ÖVP politicians to be questioned about Operation Luxor raids in parliamentary investigative committee
  • Investigations against foundation and three of its board members are closed
  • Operation Luxor survivors win a defamation case against key witness

Leading ÖVP politicians to be questioned about Operation Luxor raids in parliamentary investigative committe

  • The ÖVP corruption investigation committee began its work in December 2021. There have been 27 meetings so far. 50 respondents were questioned over 24 survey days.
  • Most recently, the committee of inquiry questioned former ministers Margarete Schramböck and Elisabeth Köstinger and President of the National Council Wolfgang Sobotka, who remained very secretive on questions pertaining to the Operation Luxor raids.Sobotka, who was Austria’s Interior Minister in 2017, claimed to not know who the academic Lorenzo Vidino is, despite his work being central to security measures taken against Muslims by the Austrian government. Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood he refused to openly respond, arguing that the organisation in question operates underground.
  • As part of their 2017 election programme, the ÖVP co-funded a study through the ÖIF (Austrian Integration Fund) which is under the umbrella of the interior ministry, on the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, which was conducted by Lorenzo Vidino to the cost of 80,000€.

  • Now the opposition also wants to add the controversial “Operation Luxor” raids and the ousted “experts” Nina Scholz and Heiko Heinisch to the agenda of the ÖVP corruption investigation committee.The ministries of Justice and Home Affairs are to provide files on this. SPÖ (Social Democratic Party of Austria), FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) and Neos want to clarify possible political influence on the investigative work.
  • After the summer break on September 6th, the questioning in the parliamentary inquiry committee on the alleged corruption of the ÖVP continues. Amongst others, former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Integration Minister Susanne Raab (responsible for the Islam Map) are to be questioned.

Investigations against foundation and three of its board members are closed

  • The investigation against the charitable foundation Anas Schakfeh in connection with Operation Luxor has been dropped, the public prosecutor’s office in Graz confirmed on Monday.
  • A house search took place at the private foundation in November 2020 in the course of the Operation Luxor raids, which the higher regional court classified as illegal a year ago, the association announced in a broadcast.
  • Like many other associations, the foundation had been screened by investigators for possible contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, as well as suspicions of terrorist financing and the formation of a terrorist organisation.There were numerous house searches and investigations against around 70 people in the states of Styria, Carinthia, Lower Austria and Vienna.
  • In the summer of 2021 the raids were declared to have been partly unlawful, after the Graz Higher Regional Court upheld several complaints against the measure.

Operation Luxor survivors win a defamation case against key witness

  • In a July 2021 interview with Amir Zaidan on the online medium exxpress.at, one of the key witnesses of the Graz prosecution authority named suspects and made various allegations.In the conversation, which is no longer available on the exxpress website, Zaidan alleged that the political scientist Farid Hafez and an ‘Ammar S.’ were Muslim Brotherhood members, and that the organisation was “Islamist” and militant.
  • The Muslim Youth Austria (MJÖ), was described by Zaidan as a cadre force for the Muslim Brotherhood, while the MJÖ successfully took legal action against it.
  • Hafez and Ammar S. brought a lawsuit against Zaidan for defamation, which Judge Stefan Romstorfer decided on in a trial lasting several days.
  • The judge convicted Amir Zaidan of a fine totalling 3,500€ ; 25€ a day for 140 days.Half of the conviction is conditionally suspended for two years. For Romstorfer, the incriminated quotes were presented as statements of fact rather than a personal evaluation, he explained.
Download briefing here

June 2022

  • Graz Higher Regional Court removes Heiko Heinsch and Nina Scholz as experts for the Operation Luxor case after objections from survivors
  • Graz Higher Regional Court declares the surveillance and account opening of “Liga Kultur” association in Operation Luxor as illegal
  • Ruling ÖVP investigation over money fraud stymies attempt at ‘clean break’ of new party leadership
  • Muslim Youth of Austria beat false allegations in court

Graz Higher Regional Court removes Heiko Heinsch and Nina Scholz as experts for the Operation Luxor case after objections from survivors

  • The Graz Higher Regional Court decision was based on a complaint submitted by a survivor of the raids about a 2017 television programme that dealt with Islamic kindergartens featuring Heinisch.The complaint argued that his contribution to the program could have given the false impression that a named individual was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, with ties to terrorist organisations
  • From the court’s point of view, it was argued that his appearance in the programme could raise doubts as to whether Heinisch was “actually completely neutral” towards the accused. Heinisch’s colleague Scholz is also included in the decision.This is especially important given that in the later report on Operation Luxor, the position of the accused individual “is used as a key indicator for designating the respective institution as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood or as part of its network”.
  • Both Heinisch and Scholz are involved with nefarious Documentation Centre for Political Islam and have been involved with the Austrian Integration Fond (ÖIF) which plays a role in supporting the governing ÖVP´s anti-Muslim policies. The Islamophobic ‘Islam Map’ was supported by studies from Heinisch, song others.

Graz Higher Regional Court declares the surveillance and account opening of “Liga Kultur” association in Operation Luxor as illegal

  • This is significant in that every attempt by the public prosecutor’s office in Graz to turn the investigation towards equating membership of the Muslim Brotherhood with membership of a terrorist organisation was struck down by the court.The reason given was that the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the largest political currents in Islam, and that to describe them or members as terrorists would be inadmissible.
  • This means that the central thesis of Operation Luxor as laid out by the now ousted experts Nina Scholz and Heiko Heinisch – namely, that being part of the Muslim Brotherhood equates to being part of a terrorist organisation – has been legally debunked.This further highlights the unlawful and oppressive nature of the Operation Luxor raids as an attempt to criminalise and silence Muslim activists and organisations.

Ruling ÖVP investigation over money fraud stymies attempt at ‘clean break’ of new party leadership

  • The issue implicates Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who was responsible for the election campaign – placing him at the centre of one of the ÖVP’s many scandals again.
  • This news is significant, as it cast major doubts on current Chancellor Nehammer’s ability to portray his leadership of the ÖVP as a break from the direction of his successor Sebastian Kurz, who had to resign amidst major corruption scandals.

Muslim Youth of Austria beat against false allegations in court

  • In two cases, the Muslim Youth Austria (MJÖ) was able to successfully defend itself against credit-damaging and libelous allegations.
  • An injunction was issued against university professor Dr. Ednan Aslan, from the Institute for Islamic Theological Studies at the University of Vienna.
    The ‘Islamologist’ Dr. Amir Zaidan was confirmed in the preliminary injunction already issued by the Vienna Commercial Court.
  • Aslan had falsely claimed in an online video discussion  in “Der Standard”, an Austrian newspaper, that the MJÖ and its chairman were engaged in “agitation” and made “active contributions to violence in society” and “spread false information.”The Vienna Higher Regional Court made a statement in its decision that the right to freedom of expression cannot justify disparaging political opponents through factually untrue allegations.
  • Meanwhile in an interview with the online platform “Exxpress”, Zaidan had alleged that the MJÖ was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood on a personal and non-material level and that it was being influenced by them.In doing so, he had made use of unfounded allegations which the MJÖ had successfully taken legal action against in the past.
  • Zaidan’s false allegations and incriminating statements were judged by the court to be credit-damaging and libellous.
Download briefing here

May 2022

  • Court rules against dropping Operation Luxor case against Farid Hafez
  • Graz public prosecutor wants to investigate three suspects in Operation Luxor and a Muslim activist for ‘coercion’
  • Local governments back down on the headscarf ban in kindergartens, while federal government maintains it
  • Allies of disgraced former Chancellor step down from ministerial roles, signalling shifting balance within ruling party

Court rules against dropping Operation Luxor case against Farid Hafez

  • The Criminal Court of Graz has decided against discontinuing the proceedings against Farid Hafez, one of the survivors and targets of the police raids in November 2020 known as Operation Luxor. The allegations which come from the public prosecutor’s office in Graz accuse Hafez of  terrorist financing, membership in a terrorist organization and money laundering. The suspicion is based on phone surveillance, but so far nothing substantial has emerged in the course of the developments against him.
  • According to the Criminal Court of Graz, the list of criteria for determining who is to be qualified as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood corresponds to someone who locates “Islamophobia”, Islamophobia, in Western societies.
    The Criminal Court of Graz has made the argument that ‘Islamophobia’ is a term instrumentalized by the Muslim Brotherhood, as a propagandistic strategy to emphasise the victimhood of Muslims in the west.
    Labelling the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, and conflating Muslim advocacy groups writ large with affiliation to the Brotherhood, has been a central plank of the Austrian government’s attack on Muslim civil society, including for Operation Luxor.
  • Yet even the Higher Regional Court in Graz found that due to the “diversity” of the Muslim Brotherhood, it is highly speculative to argue that any alliance could be considered terrorist activity, which weakens a key element of the state’s rationale around Operation Luxor.
  • This decision by the Criminal Court of Graz brazenly criminalises Muslim activism and intellectualism in Austria while simultaneously serving as means to silence any Muslim opposition to the status quo and the ruling government.
  • Farid is a well-known political scientist has been researching Islamophobia and is known for the Islamophobia reports, for which he acts as editor or co-editor, such as the “Yearbook for Islamophobia Research” and the “European Islamophobia Report”.
    His account of the 2020 raid  is recounted in our report Operation Luxor: Unravelling the myths behind Austria’s largest ever peacetime police raids .

Graz public prosecutor wants to investigate three suspects in Operation Luxor and a Muslim activist for ‘coercion’

  • The Graz public prosecutor Johannes Winklhofer plans to investigate three suspects raided in Operation Luxor and a Muslim activist for ‘coercion’ because they chose to defend themselves legally against statements of a controversial prosecution witness.
  • Winklhofer is leading the investigations into one of the largest and probably most controversial proceedings in Austria: Operation Luxor. As part of the operation, dozens of raids against the members of the Muslim community took place in the name of fighting so-called “political Islam”.
    As yet none of those targeted have been arrested or found guilty. On the contrary, there have already been setbacks in the operation as the higher regional court in Graz declared the raids illegal.
  • Winklhofer’s plan to investigate the three suspects and the Muslim activist raises the prospect of Muslims in Austria being punished or even prosecuted because they threaten or intend to use permissible legal means to defend themselves.

Local governments back down on the headscarf ban in kindergartens, while federal government maintains it

Allies of disgraced former Chancellor step down from ministerial roles, signalling shifting balance within ruling party

  • Agriculture Minister Elisabeth Köstinger and Economy Minister Margarete Schramböck, both close allies to disgraced former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, have stepped down.
  • This is an effort for Karl Nehammer, the current Chancellor and leader of the ruling rightwing ÖVP party to signal a distancing from Kurz`s ÖVP and a return to the old-school ÖVP and its ‘Christian democratic’ values.
  • Nehammer himself was responsible for overseeing Operation Luxor, and Susanne Raab the ÖVP Minister for Integration is still in position.
    Raab is responsible for the racist Islam Map and has been involved in many measures against Muslims in Austria; therefore it is safe to argue that despite Nehammer’s rebranding little is expected to change federal level regarding the Islamophobic measures which have taken place under Kurz’s tenure.
Download briefing here