Church of Scientology fined by Danish court for defamation

Associated Press/January 10, 2003

Copenhagen, Denmark -- A Danish court fined the Church of Scientology on Friday for publishing defamatory remarks about an east German filmmaker and a Danish journalist described by the church as having links to the former East German secret police. Anette Refstrup, the Danish editor-in-chief of the church's magazine Frihed, or Freedom, was fined 10,000 kroner (US$1,370) and the church was ordered by the Copenhagen City Court to pay court fees of 130,000 kroner (US$17,800).

In 1999, Frihed published a story that claimed filmmaker Walther Heynowski worked for East Germany's Stasi and trained Danish journalist Joergen Pedersen.

The article was published after the Church of Scientology tried to stop Pedersen from making a television show critical of the church, which is not recognized as a religious organization in Denmark.

Heynowski, a German citizen, and Pedersen worked together on the show. They sued the church for defamation and demanded 250,000 kroner (US$34,200) apiece.

Tarja Vulto, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology in Europe, told The Associated Press that the church would appeal the decision.

"We are quite shocked about this ruling because it stops the freedom of speech,'' she said from the church's Copenhagen offices. "We think it is totally unacceptable and we are going to appeal it.''

Vulto said there are more than 15,000 Scientologists in Denmark. The church's European headquarters is based in Copenhagen.

Among those who testified in the trial, which started in October, was former East German spymaster Markus Wolf, who denied Heynowski had worked for him.

The Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard.

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