Paris court upholds jail sentences, fines for French Scientologists
A Paris appeal court on Thursday upheld a fraud conviction and a fine of hundreds of thousands of euros against the Church of Scientology for preying on vulnerable followers and extracting money from them.
In 2009 the French branch of the Scientology movement was ordered to pay 600,000 euros in fines after being convicted of unfairly extracting money from followers in the 1990s, but it was not banned from operating in France.
On Thursday the fines were maintained and Alain Rosenberg, the leader of the movement in France, saw his two-year suspended jail sentence and 30,000-euro fine upheld.
The court either upheld or increased fines, now ranging between 10,000
and 30,000 euros, against five more Scientologists.
Their convictions were for fraud or the illegal practice of pharmacy, after plaintiffs said they were given vitamins and concoctions which the group claimed would improve their mental state.
"This is very good news for those who fight against cults and a serious defeat for the Church of Scientology," said Olivier Morice, lawyer for Unadfi, a group which campaigns against sects and was a plaintiff in the case.
France regards Scientology as a cult, not a religion, and has prosecuted individual Scientologists before, but the 2009 trial marked the first time the organisation as a whole had been convicted.
Church of Scientology lawyers in November raised five constitutional questions in a bid to get the trial annulled, but they were rejected, prompting the complainants and their lawyers to walk out.
Court hearings were curtailed because of the absence of the accused, while the four former followers who brought the case also withdrew from the trial.
The sole remaining witness was Catherine Picard, who heads Unadfi.
Picard testified to the "heavy debts, broken family ties" and the "state of subjection" that could result from the "sect-like methods" used by Scientology to "indoctrinate vulnerable people".