Scientology Crime Syndicate



Scientologists take stand in France
Copyright 1999 Nando Media
Copyright 1999 Associated Press

MARSEILLE, France (September 21, 1999 1:21 p.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - A French court began hearing testimony Tuesday from seven members of the Church of Scientology facing fraud charges after rejecting the defense's second call to postpone the proceedings.

The case has put the controversial Church of Scientology back in the spotlight while it struggles to win recognition as a legitimate religion in Europe. The case also has whipped up fury among Scientology leaders, one of whom said Monday he would denounce France to the U.N. Human Rights Commission for threatening the rights of minority religions to a fair trial.

Some 100 members of the Church of Scientology protested outside the courtroom in Marseille on Tuesday, waving banners that read "Scientology, 40 years in France: a new religion."

The probe began in 1990 against regional Scientology leaders in the southern coastal cities of Marseille and Nice for alleged fraud, illegal practice of medicine and premeditated violence.

The case originally was lodged by a former member of the church, and on Monday a second man came forward as a civil party.

France has put the Scientologists on a list of 173 groups that are tracked to prevent cult activity. Many other European countries do not recognize the group as a religion.

But the Scientologists fought back Tuesday, flying a human rights delegation to a meeting in Vienna, Austria, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to brief members on "human rights abuses by the French government's anti-sect office."

The Scientologists' delegation will call for the disbandment of France's anti-sect office, the Interministerial Mission to Fight Against Sects, and the dismissal of its chief, Alain Vivien, the group said in a statement.

The Church accused Vivien of "flagrant disregard of France's human rights commitments" and of exerting "institutional pressure on the judicial branch aimed at cowing its independence."

The French trial already has been tainted by scandal after documents relating to the case disappeared from the Marseille court two weeks ago. An official inquiry blamed a court clerk.

The Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954 and teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems. It counts John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley among its high-profile members.

The Marseille trial was due to continue Wednesday.

Copyright 1999 Nando Media


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