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South Tyrol: Acquittal for pesticide critic

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Alexander Schiebel at court
Alexander Schiebel with his lawyers Francesca Cancellaro and Nicola Canestrini. © Christoph Dörfler

The regional court in Bolzano in South Tyrol has acquitted the filmmaker and book author Alexander Schiebel of the charge of defamation. However, the court wants to continue the trial against Karl Bär of the Munich Environmental Institute.

In 2017, Schiebel and Bär had clearly criticised the massive use of pesticides in fruit cultivation in South Tyrol: Schiebel in his book Das Wunder von Mals (The Miracle of Malles) published by oekom Verlag, Bär with a campaign for "Pestizidtirol" (Pesticide Tyrol) in which he zeroed in on South Tyrolean tourism advertising. This earned both of them reports from the South Tyrolean provincial councillor for agriculture, Arnold Schuler , as well as 1376 farmers.

A victory for freedom of expression

The start of the trial in September 2020 attracted a lot of attention and brought bad press to South Tyrol. Not only environmentalists saw the trial as an attempt to silence critics by legal means. "From my point of view, a very important victory for freedom of expression. And of course a great relief for me and my family," Alexander Schiebel therefore commented on his acquittal.

Karl Bär expressed optimism that his trial, which will take place before a different judge, will also be concluded soon. But first it is to be continued on 22 October 2021. On that day, the court wants to hear the two South Tyrolean fruit farmers and brothers Stephan and Tobias Gritsch as witnesses for the prosecution, "the only two plaintiffs who had shown no willingness to engage in dialogue before today's hearing", as the Environmental Institute writes.

Provincial Councillor Schuler and two representatives of the fruit growers' cooperative had already withdrawn their secondary complaints. The Neue Südtiroler Tageszeitung reported that 1,371 farmers had signed the withdrawal of the charges and declared their willingness to follow this path. Only the Gritsch brothers did not.

After their appearance, a total of 88 witnesses are to present the negative environmental and health impacts of the high pesticide use in the South Tyrolean apple orchards in defence of the Environmental Institute. The extent of the pesticide use is documented by the farmers' records, which were requested by the court and are currently being evaluated by the Environmental Institute. The Environmental Institute also wants to bring these figures into the proceedings. This is not likely to be publicity for South Tyrol.

 


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