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Austria Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Austria is a rule of law and has a developed democratic system that guarantees political and civil rights. But human rights organizations and other judges have been worried by the right-wing political and anti-immigrant party FP's growing political influence in recent years. During the nearly one and a half years that the FP was a member of a coalition government until May 2019, measures were taken that were considered to threaten fundamental rights.

The coalition government between bourgeois VP and right-wing populist FP, which ruled the country from December 2017 to May 2019 (see Current policy), was criticized not least for its harsh policies against migrants and asylum seekers. The stricter asylum policy, which included restrictions on the number of asylum seekers and harsh conditions for migrants, began to be introduced in connection with the refugee crisis in Europe from 2015. The government was also criticized for trying to restrict media freedom (see below) and a new law from 2017 that banned comprehensive headgear in public places received criticism for being discriminatory and violating religious and freedom of expression.

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Austria has multi-party systems and the parliamentary and presidential elections are conducted in correct and fair forms. The parties can operate without hindrance and there is freedom of association as well as freedom of assembly. The bans on neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism, hate propaganda and the denial of the Holocaust during World War II, however, mean that there are opportunities for the authorities to make restrictions on these rights.

Women participate in politics to a relatively high degree. After the 2017 election, about 37 percent of the members of parliament were women.

Democracy and Human Rights of AustriaThere is no legislation that prevents minorities from sitting in the legislative assemblies in the country. Among the Members of Parliament, Slovenes, Hungarians and Roma are represented, although not so many.

Corruption is not a major problem in Austrian society. The country is among the 20 countries with the least corruption according to Transparency International's index of corruption in the countries of the world (see here).

At the same time, a number of large corruption deals linked to politicians have helped to reduce the confidence among the voters of the politicians. A former finance minister has been charged with suspicion of receiving bribes and for embezzlement in connection with the sale of state-owned apartments at the beginning of the first decade of the 21st century (see also Modern History). In the spring of 2019, a scandal broke over the party leader of the FP, Heinz-Christian Strache. He was forced to resign as vice-chancellor of the government and as FP leader after a video recording was circulated in which he promised a woman who claimed to be a wealthy Russian investor state business contract in exchange for FP to receive support in the 2017 election. to the fall of the entire coalition government (see alsoCalendar: May 2019).

The Council of Europe and Transparency International have also called for more effective legislation on party contributions and lobbying.

Freedom of expression and media

Freedom of the press and opinion was written into the Constitution in 1920 but was restricted in the 1930s. It was not until 1955 that freedom of the press was completely restored. It is generally well respected, but there is some criticism of restrictions on the freedom of information which prevents transparency in public activities, and that prosecution can be brought for defamation.

In recent years, several journalists have been sued, often by politicians - notably members of right-wing populist parties and officials and judges. The European Court of Human Rights has, in some cases, ruled that national judgments violated freedom of expression.

According to both Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, the threats to freedom of the press increased towards the end of the 2010 when FP was a member of the government. For example, reports were leaked that government agencies were trying to limit information they conveyed to certain specific newspapers that were identified as particularly "critical". FP politicians and government officials also made several outrageous statements against journalists. Austrian media and the Austrian industry organization for journalists and newspaper publishers expressed strong concern after FP criticized various media and individual journalists in various ways. One of the most talked about attacks was when the FP leader and then Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache criticized a journalist at the public service company ORF as well as the media company itself for spreading lies and fake news (in a Facebook post).see Calendar: February and March 2018 respectively.

Austria rallied from place 11 2018 to place 16 2019 in Reporters Without Borders review of freedom of the press in the countries of the world (see list here).

Judicial system and legal security

Austria has a well-functioning judicial system and its independent status is statutory. The Constitution guarantees legal certainty.

Since 1999, there has been a special human rights council to oversee authorities that sort under the Ministry of the Interior, including the police. It was set up, among other things, as a result of an incident in 1999 when a Nigerian asylum seeker died in connection with police being transported back to his home country. Three police officers were later convicted of causing his death. According to human rights organizations, the police sometimes use force in connection with arrests. Criticism has also been directed at the long waiting times, sometimes over four years, for asylum seekers to have their applications for residence permits tested.


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