French court to decide whether to disband Church of Scientology

Associated Press/May 17, 2002

Paris -- A French court was to rule Friday on a prosecutor's request to disband the Paris branch of the Church of Scientology , which is on trial for attempted fraud and false advertising in connection with efforts to recruit and keep members.

Prosecutors are also seeking a minimum fine of 300,000 euros (dlrs 273,600) and a fine and 12-month suspended prison sentence for Marc Walter, the president of the Ile de France section that includes Paris.

France has long had a contentious relationship with the Church, the trial marked the first time the organization itself was being taken to court. Several of the group's leaders in France have faced separate legal battles.

Scientologists have likened the trial to a witch hunt and say their faith is a religion like any other. The church has 40,000 members in France, including 20,000 in Paris.

The Church of Scientology has sought recognition as a religion in Europe, but many Europeans are skeptical. In France, it figures on a list of nearly 200 groups to be tracked to prevent cult activities.

France has been increasingly inhospitable to groups that it calls sects. Last year it adopted a law that increases the country's judicial arsenal against sects as part of a larger crackdown.

The Church of Scientology, which counts actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its members, was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard. It teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems.

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