ECHR turns down Church of Scientology's claim against Belgium

RAPSI, Russia/September 19, 2013

Moscow -- The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) declared inadmissible an application filed by the Church of Scientology claiming that the Belgian authorities had breached the church’s rights by issuing statements to the media on a pending investigation.

In 1997, a judicial investigation was launched against the Belgian applicant association ASBL Eglise de Scientologie on charges of fraud and embezzlement. Between 1999 and 2007, numerous Belgian newspapers published comments featuring accusations made by public prosecutors.
The association then filed various criminal complaints, seeking to intervene as a civil party to the proceedings, but those complaints were shelved.

Meanwhile, the association attempted to have the proceedings against it declared inadmissible, arguing that the prosecutors had breached the secrecy of the investigation, thus disregarding its rights to the presumption of innocence and a fair hearing. This application was declared admissible but unfounded, and its appeal of the issue was dismissed in 2008.

Notably, proceedings have not yet fully wrapped. According to a statement released Thursday by the ECHR: “The hearing before the Committals Division for the finalising of the pretrial proceedings was adjourned in 2010. According to the information in the parties’ observations, the proceedings are still pending at that stage.”

In August 2008, the applicant turned to the ECHR, claiming that its rights under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention) had been violated. According to the statement: “Relying on Article 6 § 1 the Church of Scientology complained of a violation by the prosecution of its right to a fair hearing, alleging that prosecutors had publicly giving their opinion on charges against it before the submissions for the prosecution had been made at the stage of the finalising of the pretrial proceedings.”

Additionally, the applicant had complained that prosecutors breached the presumption of innocence by making public statements reflecting their views of the applicant’s guilt.

With regard to Article 6, Section 1 of the Convention, which deals with fair trial rights, the court held that the application was premature as all domestic remedies had not yet been exhausted.

With regard to Article 6, Section 2, which deals with the presumption of innocence, the court held that “the application was manifestly ill-founded and had to be rejected” owing to the nature of the evidence submitted in support of the claim.

As explained in the court’s statement: “There had been no audio or video recording of those statements, nor had they been transcribed in documents emanating from the authorities in question, such as procedural documents or official press releases. The only evidence produced by the applicant association consisted of press articles for which the relevant journalists were solely responsible, and it was highly possible that those articles did not accurately reflect the nuances of the remarks in question.” The ECHR added that the evidence had not demonstrated that the authorities had breached their duty of discretion.

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