Woman 'imprisoned' on Scientology cruise ship

ABC News, Australia/November 30, 2011

An Australian resident has told Lateline the Church of Scientology imprisoned her on its cruise ship The Freewinds.

Valeska Paris says the Church of Scientology's leader David Miscavige sent her to the ship when she was 18, to prevent her mother taking her away from Scientology.

Ms Paris says she ended up being on the ship for over a decade, and was unable to leave The Freewinds for the first six years without an escort.

She has also described the church's leader David Miscavige as a psychopath and says he should be put on trial.

Ms Paris was born into a Scientology family in Switzerland, and at the age of six she moved to Scientology's headquarters in the UK where she was placed in its then youth wing the cadet org.

At 14 she joined the Church's elite Sea Organisation, signing a contract binding her for a billion years, a commitment that would override her bond with her own family.

"I was basically hauled in and told that my mum had attacked the church and that I needed to disconnect from her because she was suppressive," she said.

Her mother had denounced Scientology on French TV after her ex husband Albert Jaquier committed suicide.

A self made millionaire, his last days were spent in poverty, and in a diary he kept, he blamed the Church of Scientology for fleecing him of his fortune.

Ms Paris says the church was so worried her mother would take her away that Mr Miscavige intervened, ordering she be taken to the church's cruise ship The Freewinds.

"He decided the ship, and I found out two hours before my plane left, I was woken up in the morning and I was sent to the ship for 'two weeks'," she said. 'I'd been in Scientology my whole life'

Ms Paris says she was held on the Freewinds against her will, and ended up on the ship for 12 years.

"I did not want to be there, I made it clear I did not want to be there and that was considered bad ethics, meaning it was considered not right," she said.

"They take your passport when you go on the ship and you're in the middle of an island. So it's a bit hard [to escape] and by that time I was 18, I'd been in Scientology my whole life, it's not like I knew how to escape," she said.

The Freewinds is used as a base to deliver Scientology's highest level counselling course known as Operating Thetan Level VIII.

It cruises around the Caribbean docking at small islands. The Church says ships have religious significance to Scientologists because its founder L Ron Hubbard, had researched and ministered the first Operating Thetan levels aboard a ship.

A Scientology promotional video says the ship "stands at the forefront of a growing worldwide movement towards spiritual advancement transporting Scientologists to new realms of freedom".

But for Valeska Paris, there was no freedom on the Freewinds. She says she was not allowed off the ship for the first six years without an escort, and was forced to do hard labour in the engine room.

"It's hot, it's extremely loud, it's smelly, it's not nice. I was sent down there at first for 48 hours straight on almost no sleep and I had to work by myself," she said.

"I was not allowed to work with anyone else. I don't know if I went unconscious or if I fell asleep but I was cleaning some part of an engine it was extremely loud and I was just out for like four hours and this guy came and shook me four hours later and he said I was unconscious."

The Church of Scientology in the US refused to be interviewed for this story. Their lawyers sent Lateline a letter threatening legal action over a breach of a confidentiality agreement between the Church and Ms Paris.

In a statement the Church of Scientology said Ms Paris' claims were false.

"She certainly wasn't "forced" to be there. She was also never forced to perform labour in the engine room," the statement said.

"The Freewinds is a wonderful place, as even Valeska said on numerous occasions. Her allegation that she could only leave the ship with an escort is totally false." 'Cover-up'

But Ms Paris says she signed the agreement under duress, and the Scientology statement has been contradicted by Ramana Dienes-Browning, a former a senior executive on the Freewinds.

Ms Dienes-Browning was responsible for monitoring staff behaviour and performance on the ship, and says Ms Paris was imprisoned on the ship.

"Their response is a lie, their response is a cover-up," she said.

"She made it very clear she did not want to be there. She had been sent to the ship so as not to be in contact with one of her parents and that's not what she wanted, she was very, very distressed.

"I would definitely consider it imprisonment because there was no choice in the matter."

Ms Dienes-Browning is now working on a photographic exhibition re-enacting her time in Scientology. She says she too was held against her will on the Freewinds and suffered abuse.

"I have been dealing with that trauma and as a result I have experienced depression and post traumatic stress and had to go through a process of dealing with that and healing," she said.

She says after five years of trying she was finally able to leave the Sea Org and the Freewinds.

The Church has denied Ms Dienes-Browning's claims in a statement, saying "we have no facts that would support Ms Dienes-Browning's opposite opinion".

Valeska Paris left the Freewinds when she was sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force in Sydney. Scientologists describe the RPF as a voluntary religious retreat. Defectors describe it as a punitive re-education camp.

It was here she met former St George Rugby League captain Chris Guider, marrying him soon after and leaving the Church.

She says she would like to see the head of the Church of Scientology, the man who she says sent her to the Freewinds, put on trial.

"It's not right for someone to be running the church and basically take advantage of a church and hiding behind religion to live like a king and abuse people around him. That man doesn't like anyone, he's a psychopath," she said.

The Church of Scientology denies their leader David Miscavige sent Ms Paris to the Freewinds. When asked if this allegation was put to Mr Miscavige the Church failed to respond.

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