Following a long battle between federal prosecutors in Belgium and the country's Church of Scientology, Belgian authorities announced on 28th December that they’ll be charging the Dianetics believers with extortion, fraud, breaching of civil privacy and the practice of illegal medical procedures on their followers. So a good cross section of stuff you probably shouldn't be doing if you go around calling yourself a church.
Prosecutors are also trying to brand Scientology a criminal organisation, which would mean anyone seen following or trying to preach their doctrine in Belgium could be arrested and, in theory, thrown into jail – something Scientologists are comparing to Nazi Germany. Which, I suppose, isn't too far off, except for the fact the Jews hadn't done anything wrong and the Church of Scientology are actually being charged with a number of pretty serious crimes.
Although the plans for prosecution have been peppered across the media in the last 24 hours, the church themselves have said that reports in De Tijd, a local financial newspaper, were where they first heard of the news. However, that's maybe some bizarre tactic to distance themselves from the charges, as the Belgian Church of Scientology has been under investigation for the better part of 15 years – almost since they were first refused religion status by the Belgian government in 1997.
Soon after, ex-members who’d managed to “escape” the group's confines complained that they’d been brainwashed and had their savings extorted out of them. The 15-year investigation into Belgian Scientology followed, with prosecutions only now being filed against the church. The main crime in question is the nature of the labour contracts that Scientologists in Belgium have been issuing their believers. Essentially, they're totally illegal. After a complaint from the Labour Mediation Service in Brussels, investigators raided the Belgian branch of Scientology in 2008 and gathered what they say is a “wealth of evidence” against the Scientologists.
No details have emerged stating exactly what the nature of these “fraudulent labour contracts” is, but if looking at Scientology’s previous antics (false imprisonment, spying on their followers, enslavement) is anything to go by, it’s possible that the Belgian Scientologists were recruiting members and forcing unfair work on them. To sneak under the radar of the law, the Scientologists could have been issuing these phony permits in a bid to explain away their workforce when the Brussels Regional Employment people came knocking. Which, of course, they did.
Despite the lengthy investigation and the incriminating evidence gathered, an official spokesperson from the Church of Scientology I spoke to feels the charges will never stand up in the European court.
“Two unanimous decisions by the European Court of Human Rights affirm the rights of Scientologists throughout Europe to organise their churches and practice their faith unmolested by arbitrary intrusions from governments,” says Karin Pouw, the Director of Public Affairs for Scientology International.
“Here, the Belgian government attempts to reclassify and criminalise the voluntary participation in peaceful religious practices. This offends Belgium’s obligations as a member of the European Union and as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. We are confident that the Belgian Church [of Scientology] will prevail, as we always do.”
Weirdly, she failed to mention the illegal labour permits the Church have been issuing their followers with. Or the fact that they indoctrinate people, telling them not to seek out a doctor for mental and sometimes physical trauma, but to simply grab hold of two bits of metal and answer intrusive questions fired at them by a hierarchy they're brainwashed into serving.
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