A court in Belgium on Thursday has sent two Scientology organisations and at least 10 Scientologists for trial, the Belga news agency reports.
The Chambre de Conseil had been considering whether two criminal investigations against the movement, one dating back as far as 1997, should go to court.
The cases, already merged into one, involve accusations fraud, illegal practice of medicine and the non-respect of privacy laws.
One incident police investigated was the placing of false job adverts that gave the impression that paid work was available when in fact it was for unpaid work.
Perhaps the most important feature of the ruling is it is going after two Scientology non-profit organisations in Belgium and not just members of the movement.
The court decided that the statute of limitations for the alleged offences in the case of an 11th Scientologist had passed.
And it ordered that the case regarding a 12th Scientologist should be transferred because he is an English-speaker — but to where or what is not clear.
The individuals and the two organisations sent for trial have the right to appeal the Belgian court’s decision within 15 days.
Scientology has already issued a statement attacking the ruling and vowing to defend itself.
It denounced what it said was a “modern inquisition” that amounted an attack on freedom of religion.
Thursday’s ruling in Belgium follows the definitive conviction last year in France of two Scientology organisations — and several Scientologists — for fraud.
As we have reported here before, there is every sign that Belgian investigators have learned from the approach taken in France.
More detail from Jonny: Prosecutors are targeting the Church of Scientology in Belgium and its Brussels-based European Office for Public Affairs and Human Rights.
Since federal prosecutors have characterised the movement as a criminal organisation, this means — in theory at least — that it could be banned in Belgium if convicted, according to Belgian press reports.
All those sent for trial have 15 days in which to lodge an appeal and Scientology has already made it clear that it will fight all the way.
“We cannot help but hope that this interminable investigation is nothing less than a modern inquisition and an affront to freedom of religion and the rights of the defence,” said a Scientology statement.
The time the investigation had taken — the earliest of the two dates back to 1997 — showed that the facts were “non-existent” and that the case was “made up of rumours, attributing motives and lies to what the Scientology religion really is,” the statement added.
Scientology should not be treated any differently from other religions, it insisted, concluding that the movement would fight to the very end any “any biased criminal proceedings that violates their basic rights”.
But there is still a way to go before the case gets to trial — if indeed it ever does.
Once the appeals are lodged, it could take months for the higher court to deliver its ruling, Belgian media reported.
And if that goes against Scientology, it might even be possible for the defendants to find grounds for a further appeal on a point of law.
This would not be the first time the movement has tried to kill off the case against it.
Scientology has already tried to get the earlier of the two cases involved here thrown out.
Their lawyers argued that prosecutors’ comments to the news media in the years following the launch of the 1997 investigation had prejudiced their right to a fair trial.
After arguing their case in vain in the Belgian courts, they filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights, but the Strasbourg-based court also rejected their complaint.
For more details, see this earlier report at Infinite Complacency.
Thank you, Jonny.
Posted by Tony Ortega on March 27, 2014 at 10:30
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