French Scientology church convicted in privacy case

Associated Foreign Press/May 18, 2002

Paris - The Paris branch of the U.S.-based Church of Scientology was found guilty on Friday of breaching France's laws on confidentiality in a decision that opponents hope could pave the way to its ultimate dissolution.

The Spiritual Association of the Church of Scientology of the Ile-de-France (ASESIF) was fined 8,000 euros (7,320 dollars) after being sued for continuing to send out unwanted literature to former members. Its head Marc Walter was personally fined 2,000 euros (1,832 dollars).

However the church was cleared of the more serious charges of fraud and spreading mendacious publicity. A spokesman said it would appeal against the conviction.

The National Union of Associations for the Defense of Families and the Individual (UNADFI), which brought the case, said the result was a victory because under a controversial law on sects passed a year ago if the church is convicted a second time it could be disbanded.

"The way is open for other cases. UNADFI has an appointment with Scientology in other courts," said lawyer Olivier Morice.

"A few hours ago the scientologists were saying that they would not be found guilty. But here on a matter of principle the church is convicted. The symbolic importance should not be underestimated," he said.

The church, which claims around 10,000 members in France, says it is the victim of an establishment witch-hunt operated from the government's Mission to Combat Sects, which has officially classified it as one of 172 sects in the country.

Spokesman Jean Dupuis said the church's acquittal on the more serious counts was welcome, but the conviction for breach of confidentiality was "evidence of the political and judicial conspiracy which sets out to destroy those who dare to think differently."

The suit was launched after a former member complained to the French National Commission on Freedom and Technology (CNIL) that the church had retained his personal records against his wishes.

However according to Dupuis the CNIL has received more than 30,000 complaints over the last 20 years, barely any of which have come to court, and the decision to single out the Church of Scientology was further evidence of a plot.

The church says it is the principal target of last May's anti-sect law, which was described by the U.S. administration and international human rights groups at the time as an assault on religious tolerance.

Entitled "the law to reinforce the prevention and repression of groups of a sect-like character," it made it an offence to abuse a vulnerable person via the "exertion of heavy or repeated pressure or techniques liable to alter his judgment.

It also allowed courts to close down associations after two convictions for a range of crimes.

Founded in the U.S. in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology was accorded the status of religion there in 1993, but is regarded with suspicion in many European countries, where opponents accuse it of manipulating adherents for financial ends.

In December a court in the Spanish capital Madrid threw out a case against 13 Church of Scientology members, ruling that they had not "committed any offense whatsoever."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.