The appeal for the Church of Scientology’s conviction on fraud has opened in a Paris court.
In October 2009 a French court convicted the Church of Scientology and six of its members of organized fraud, but stopped short of banning the church.
At the time officials voiced regret that a recent change in the law prevented France from banning the controversial cult outright.
France is one of many countries that does not consider Scientology to be a religion.
The case centres on a complaint made in 1998 by a woman who said she was enrolled into Scientology after members approached her in the street and persuaded her to do a personality test.
In the following months, she paid more than €21,000 for books, ‘purification packs’ of vitamins, sauna sessions and an ‘e-meter’ to measure her spiritual progress, she said.
Other complaints then surfaced. The five original plaintiffs – three of whom withdrew after reaching a financial settlement with the Church of Scientology – said they spent up to hundreds of thousands of euros on similar tests and ‘cures’.
They told investigators that Scientology members harassed them with phone calls and nightly visits to cajole them into paying their bills or taking out bank loans.
The plaintiffs were described as ‘vulnerable’ by psychological experts in the case. [...]
Investigating judge Jean-Christophe Hullin spent years examining the group’s activities, and in his indictment criticized practices he said were aimed at extracting large sums of money from members and plunging them into a ‘state of subjection’.
The investigator questioned what he called the Scientologists’ ‘obsession’ with financial gain, and the group’s practice of selling vitamins, leading to the charge of ‘acting illegally as a pharmacy’.
The Church of Scientology’s French branch, its bookstore and six of the movement’s leaders were convicte of organized fraud.
The group and bookstore were fined €600,000 ($830,000). Four leaders were given suspended sentences of between 10 months and two years. Two others were also fined.
Defense lawyers for the church plan to argue during the appeal, which opened Thursday, that the conviction curtails freedom of religion and association.
Olivier Morice, lawyer for Unadfi, an organisation which campaigns against sects, said he wants to the trial to include evidence about the methods and techniques of the Scientology movement, which, he said, are those of organised fraud.
“For us, Scientology is a business, whose main goal is to elicit money from its followers,” he told reporters outside the court.
The publishers of Religion News Blog consider the Church of Scientology to be a destructive cult and — based on its attitude and behavior toward ex-members and other critics — as a hate group as well.