The Moscow center of the Church of Scientology, a controversial international organization, has lost its license after a city district court ruled that the group's registration documents were not in order.
The Humanitarian Hubbard Center, which has been operating in Moscow for six years, said Wednesday's ruling was politically motivated and part of a Russian Orthodox Church effort to limit the influence of other faiths. Prosecutors say they first began looking into the center's activities about two years ago after receiving dozens of complaints from parents about the Scientologists' methods of teaching their children.
Earlier this year, the city prosecutor's office and the tax police raided the center's office in northeast Moscow, confiscating boxes of paperwork. "We examined their documentation and found they had broken the law when registering," Yevgeny Manerkin of the prosecutor's office said Thursday. In the registration documents submitted to the Justice Ministry, three of the 10 people listed as founders of the center were found to have no connection to it at all, Manerkin said.
Center spokesman Alexei Danchenkov said the documents were corrected in 1997, when the group reapplied for registration, but the prosecutor at the trial persisted in referring to the original documents.
He said the center, which is registered as a nonprofit organization, was also under investigation by the tax police.
Danchenkov said he believes the Scientologists are being targeted for political reasons.
"These are methods of eradicating nonprofit organizations and are tied to the ongoing struggle of the Orthodox Church to re- establish its complete dominance," he said.
Russia adopted a new law in 1997 limiting the activities of nontraditional faiths, which has been used to crack down on religious groups.
The Church of Scientology was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s and now claims to have 8 million followers worldwide. Its headquarters are in Los Angeles.
Hubbard's books, most prominently the basic Scientological text "Dianetics," are published in more than 30 languages and distributed in over 100 countries.
Scientologists call themselves a religious group and the group is registered as such in the United States and Australia. European countries have largely refused to grant Scientology tax-free religious status and the group has faced a number of high-profile trials, particularly in Germany and France.
In 1996, the German government announced it was starting a federal campaign to keep Scientologists from certain public jobs such as counseling and teaching.
The Humanitarian Hubbard Center in Moscow holds classes for about 200 students a week in spiritual self-improvement. The center also sells a large quantity of books written by Hubbard and collects membership dues.
The center was still operating Thursday with students attending the classes. The Scientologists have 10 days to appeal the Ostankinsky district court's decision, which Danchenkov said they will do.
"We will keep fighting. I'm sure we will be able to protect the center," he said.
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