Putin’s remarks to his presidential council on interethnic relations on October 31 were a clear reference to the case of a refugee from Iraq convicted by an Austrian court earlier this year in the sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy at a public swimming pool. The case, in which the attacker was sentenced to six years in prison, grabbed headlines in the Russian state media in October after Austria’s Supreme Court of Justice annulled the 20-year-old man’s conviction on the rape charge. “Austria Acquits Refugee Who Raped A 10-Year-Old Boy,” read the headline of an October 26 report by state-run Channel One television. The report opened with a two-word sentence: “Flagrant tolerance.”
But Putin’s claim about acquittal, like that of the Channel One headline, is untrue. On October 20, the Austria’s Supreme Court annulled the conviction of the refugee on the rape charge, saying a lower court did not establish whether the attacker understood that his victim did not consent to the sexual act, according to numerous Austrian media reports. Basically, the court ruled that the prosecution had not met the evidential threshold for the rape charge, although critics have argued this is immaterial given the victim's age.
The attacker, Amir A., who said he was experiencing a "sexual emergency" at the time of the attack, was not “acquitted.” The Supreme Court has ordered a retrial, which is reportedly expected to begin in January 2017. His conviction on another count -- “serious sexual abuse of a minor" -- was upheld by the court. His six-year prison sentence was annulled as a formality pending the new trial, after which a new sentence will be handed down. The attacker, who remains in custody, could face up to 15 years in prison given the psychological problems his victim has suffered as a result of the crime.
The Channel One report about the Austrian child-rape case, which did not mention that the court had ordered a retrial, has since been deleted from the network’s website. A cached version of the report can be found here.
The EU’s 'East StratCom Task Force' has highlighted the Russian media reporting of the case as an acquittal, and Putin’s reference to it, as an example of “pro-Kremlin disinformation.”
The furor in Russia over the Austrian rape case echoes that of an incendiary Channel One report in January alleging that Berlin police attempted to cover up a case in which a 13-year-old Russian-German girl was allegedly raped by a group of migrants. The report triggered widespread outrage in Russia and protests by Russian immigrants in Germany. German prosecutors, however, later said an investigation into the matter determined that the girl’s claims were fabricated.