MARSEILLE, France (AP) - The fraud trial of seven Scientologists concluded Thursday with the defense asking the court to ignore the anti-Scientology rhetoric strong in France.
In a 90-minute plea, attorney Jean-Yves Le Borgne urged the judges to "escape the media and political pressures that denounce Scientology and the danger it represents."
The defense asked that all charges be dropped.
The trial, which opened Monday, is the culmination of a probe that began in 1990 against regional Scientology leaders in Marseille and Nice for alleged fraud, illegal practice of medicine and premeditated violence.
Le Borgne argued, though, that "fraud cannot exist in the domain of religion."
The assistant prosecutor argued Wednesday for up to three years in prison for six church members. He asked the court to use its own judgment on the seventh Scientologist, who denounced the church after three months as a member.
The assistant prosecutor refused to debate about whether Scientology was a religion, comparing the Church of Scientology to "an octopus, a monster that devours the money of its followers."
But Le Borgne argued Thursday that that there was no difference between a sect and a religion, because people decided for themselves what was normal and abnormal.
The court is expected to hand down a verdict Nov. 15.
Many Europeans have long been skeptical of Scientology, whose prominent members include actors Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.
In France, the Church of Scientology is registered on a list of 173 groups to be tracked for cult activity.
On Tuesday, Scientologists flew a delegation to a Vienna meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to call for the dissolution of France's anti-sect unit.
The Church of Scientology explained its complaint against France in a statement on Wednesday, saying the government had refused to engage in dialogue with "minority religions."
The church also described discrimination against Scientologists in France, where they said members had been refused the right to open bank accounts, and teachers had been fired for their affiliation with Scientology.
Founded in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Los Angeles-based organization teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems.
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