Article published on the 2009-05-25 Latest update 2009-05-25 11:01 TU
The cross of the Church of Scientology
France considers Scientology a cult. Until now, prosecutors have only gone after individual Scientologists in court. But Monday, along with seven Scientologists, the Church itself and its bookstore are being put on trial.
One of the seven individuals is Alain Rosenberg, the CEO of the Church of Scientology in France, officially called the Spiritual Association of the Church of Scientology-Celebrity Centre (ASES-CC).
If the prosecution wins the case, it could spell the end of the French operations of the Church of Scientology.
Two women brought complaints against the Church of Scientology, one in December 1998 and one in July 1999.
Aude-Claire Malton in 1998 claimed she was offered a free personality test at a metro station and was eventually conned into spending her life savings, some 20,000 euros, on life-changing courses, books, medicine and a 5,000-euro electronic device to measure brainwaves.
The Church denies any manipulation, saying that people are free to join or not.
"We will contest every charge, and will prove that there was no mental manipulation,” Patrick Maisonneuve, a lawyer for the church, told the AFP news agency.
The individuals face up to ten years in prison and fines of a million euros. The institutions could be banned from any activity and be fined five million euros, which would spell the end of the Church in France. With appeals, a final judgement could take years.
The Church of Scientology was founded in the 1950s in the United States by the science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard.
It was declared unconstitutional in Germany last year. In Spain, a court ruled that the Spanish branch of the Church should be re-considered one of the country’s recognised religions.