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Europe

Fritzl incest trial raises uneasy questions

Video by Angela YEOH

Text by Angela YEOH

Latest update : 2009-03-12

The trial of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man accused of keeping his daughter (pictured) in a dungeon and fathering seven children by her, begins March 16. The crime shook the town of Amstetten, and left the country with some uneasy questions.

An ordinary neighbourhood in small-town Austria, with an exceptional tale of captivity.

In the cellar beneath a house in the town of Amstetten, Josef Fritzl allegedly locked up his daughter, repeatedly raped her and fathered seven children by her in over 24 years.

When this story broke last April, it sent shockwaves across the world. Many Austrians worried that the crime would leave a lasting stain on their country.

But Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer says the Fritzl case is about one criminal individual and should not reflect negatively on the country as a whole.
 
“This is not about Amstetten, this is not about Austria,” says Gusenbauer. “This is about one lone criminal who committed an incomprehensible act of violence.”

But the question remains whether Austria has a wider problem on its hands. The Fritzl case came to light just a year and a half after media reports of the ordeal of Natascha Kampusch, who was believed missing and kept by her captor in an underground cell for eight and a half years.

Elisabeth Fritzl was reported missing in August 1984. The dark reality was that she was a prisoner in the family cellar.

Police set out to inspect every aspect of Josef Fritzl’s life, to find out what circumstances led to such a crime.

Fritzl’s lawyer, Rudolph Mayer, says his client is not simply a monster, but a human being who deserves a fair trial. And whether he gets that fair trial in such an emotional and high-profile case will be a test for the Austrian legal system.

“I have to say clearly that this is a test for a state founded on the rule of law, and a test of how much citizens think according to the rule of law,” he says.

Austrians are still struggling to come to terms with the horror. One handwritten sign, left on a wall, reads: “Why did nobody realise?”

Fritzl’s trial may provide some answers.
 

Date created : 2009-03-12

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