Church of Scientology denies holding woman in isolation

Australian Broadcasting Corporation/February 25, 2013

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The Church of Scientology in Sydney has been accused of holding a young Taiwanese woman against her will after she suffered a mental breakdown.

Alice Wu was hospitalised last March after a serious cut to her hand caused by punching a window at Scientology's Sydney headquarters.

Alice Wu's family claims she hurt herself trying to escape. She eventually returned to Taiwan.

The Church of Scientology denies allegations that she was held captive or forced to do anything against her will.

The case is said to highlight Scientology's controversial beliefs around psychiatry.

Steve Cannane has this exclusive report for Lateline.

STEVE CANNANE, REPORTER: At 20, Alice Wu had a bright future. She was living in Taiwan, studying Commerce and working part-time in a library.

Just over a year later, her life is in ruins.

Mentally ill and unable to work or study, she shuffles down the street like a woman four times her age.

Her family blames the Church of Scientology in Australia.

TERESA WU, COUSIN OF ALICE (voiceover translation): A 20-year-old girl's life has been destroyed. It is an evil cult, just nothing but an evil cult.

STEVE CANNANE: In late 2011, not long after being introduced to Scientology, Alice Wu was recruited to the Church's elite Sea Organization, signing the standard billion-year contract and moving here to Dundas in Sydney's west.

TERESA WU (voiceover translation): She was only told that she will do a course, helping her to reach a higher level in Scientology. So the Scientologists in Taiwan took Alice to get a deferral in her studies and flew her to Australia immediately.

STEVE CANNANE: Taiwan has become a key recruiting ground for the Church of Scientology in Sydney.

According to former insiders, so many Australian Scientologists have left in recent years that at least half of the staff here now are Taiwanese.

These pictures, shot from a park next to the church's headquarters, give a rare snapshot of what life is like here. In the morning, recruits are drilled in a military-like fashion, marching and saluting before heading off for a long day's work.

Alice's family and friends say she soon tired of life here and asked to leave.

TERESA WU (voiceover translation): They put her into a place called the "isolation room". She was still offered food, but was locked in a room. It is an isolation room in the Sea Organization.

STEVE CANNANE: One night in March last year, Alice Wu smashed a window in the Dundas building, badly damaging her right hand. Her family say she was trying to escape. An ambulance was called and Alice was taken to hospital. She was diagnosed with a mental illness.

According to her medical records, she told hospital staff that she'd been held hostage by Scientology members.

No-one from the Church of Scientology was available for interview. Their lawyer Stuart Gibson denies the allegations

STUART GIBSON, CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY LAWYER: No, look, Steven, that's a nonsense. She was at Dundas first of all of her own volition and at all times she was free to leave Dundas. And I might hold up for the camera a couple of photographs of the facility at Dundas, which if you can clearly see, you would hardly say that it's Fort Knox. People that are there can access and egress that facility easily. So that allegation is just an absolute nonsense.

STEVE CANNANE: Was she put in isolation?

STUART GIBSON: No, she wasn't put in isolation. I think that's a derogatory term. She was actually in a sick bay.

STEVE CANNANE: But Alice's brother Jack, suspicious of what was going on, recorded a phone conversation from Taiwan with a Scientology official in Sydney.

Lateline has been told that is the voice of Mei Tsu Lee, a former president of the Church of Scientology in Taiwan.

In the conversation, Ms Lee admits Alice Wu was placed in isolation.

MEI TSU LEE, FMR PRESIDENT, CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY, TAIWAN (voiceover translation): I was with her in the isolation room after she became unstable.

STEVE CANNANE: Mei Tsu Lee was unavailable for interview.

STUART GIBSON: Well, I don't know. You'd have to take that up with her. The fact is she was in a sick bay. There is no isolation and there's never been isolation and to use that term is a derogatory term and it was nothing of the case.

STEVE CANNANE: If isolation is a derogatory term, why is it that L Ron Hubbard said you need to put people in isolation when they have a psychotic break?

STUART GIBSON: No, that's not true.

STEVE CANNANE: I've got the statement. It is true. He says anyone who has a psychotic break needs to be placed in isolation.

STUART GIBSON: No, we categorically deny that.

STEVE CANNANE: Here's Scientology's official policy on what they call the Introspection RunDown, a procedure to deal with mental breakdowns written by their founder L Ron Hubbard.

Under the heading Isolation it says, "With someone in a psychotic break, it is necessarily to isolate the person for him to destimulate and to protect him and others from possible damage. While in isolation the person received the Introspection RunDown, done flawlessly on a shortsession basis, gradiently winning and gaining confidence. Between sessions the muzzled rule is in force. No-one speaks to the person or in his hearing."

Hubbard described this policy as a technical breakthrough which possibly ranks with the major discoveries of the 20th Century.

This policy was followed with tragic consequences in 1995. Lisa Macpherson, a young Scientologist in Florida, had a mental breakdown. Instead of seeking psychiatric treatment, the Church of Scientology put her in isolation in a hotel room. She died 17 days later.

The Church of Scientology is opposed to psychiatry, labelling it an "industry of death".

MALE VOICEOVER (footage from the film Psychiatry: An Industry of Death): In the past four decades, nearly twice as many Americans have died in government psychiatric hospitals than in all US wars since 1776.

STEVE CANNANE: The day before Lateline was due to interview Scientology's lawyer, this story took another turn.

The ABC's managing director, Mark Scott, received an email from Alice Wu where she denies she was held against her will or was treated badly or hurt herself trying to escape. The email says, "I do not give ABC, your reporter or any other media for that matter permission to publicise or use my unfortunate circumstances to your advantage or to vilify an organisation I freely support."

The statement is witnessed by Yu Lung Chen, a notary from this office in Taiwan. It's dated February 14, three days after Lateline put forward the allegations to the Church of Scientology.

Alice's father and cousin later went to the office where she signed the statement.

TERESA WU (voiceover translation): Ms Chen said some people took Alice in to sign the document.

STEVE CANNANE: The notary involved, Yu Lung Chen, was unavailable for comment.

Teresa Wu says the two people who brought Alice here were from the Church of Scientology. Alice Wu's father is outraged.

WU CHOW-SHEN, FATHER OF ALICE (voiceover translation): She has been unstable and she was not in a good state of mind. She didn't have good judgment and can't tell right from wrong. I don't think it was right for her to sign the document. It should be annulled.

STEVE CANNANE: Alice Wu's father says he found out about the statement when a Scientology representative contacted him by phone.

WU CHOW-SHEN (voiceover translation): I had no idea at the start. I heard about it later when their lawyer called me and said an Australian program will be on air. I just said, "I want to live a peaceful life and I don't want anything upsetting," and I hung up. I was ignored in the past and they only called me when a program was going to be aired in Australia.

STEVE CANNANE: Given Alice has been mentally frail, how do we know that the church hasn't lent on her to make this statement?

STUART GIBSON: Well, we don't know one way or the other, Steven. I mean, I'm only going on my instructions. You may put that, but on my instructions, that's just not the case.

STEVE CANNANE: In an email to Lateline, Scientology spokesperson Sei Broadhurst said, "Ms Wu has never been coerced or forced into anything by anyone from the church."

EMMA ALBERICI: And a spokesperson from the Australian Federal Police has told Lateline they have investigated Alice Wu's case but found there was insufficient evidence to support any charges in relation to people trafficking or breaches of the Migration Act.

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