Our man in Europe, Jonny Jacobsen, finally found some time in his busy schedule covering the Scientology prosecution in Belgium to give us his thoughts about the other big story this week — the Moscow court’s decision to ban the church. Like us, Jonny has his concerns about the way Russia goes about its opposition to Hubbardism.
I reported briefly last week on the decision by a Moscow court to order the shutdown of Scientology’s Church there. When Tony tipped me off to the story, I was on the way back to Brussels to continue my coverage of the Belgian trial, so I did not have the time to offer any analysis. Here then are a few thoughts now on why I think the Moscow ruling is no cause for celebration.
As I explained here on Monday, the justice ministry argued successfully in court that Scientology should be shut down for repeated “gross and repeated violations” of Russian federal laws. The simple fact that Scientology copyrighted its own name and trademarked its symbols meant it was not a religion, Ria Novosti news agency reported. The court seems to have agreed.
It is certainly true that Scientology’s Religious Technology Center (RTC), whose chairman of the board is David Miscavige, jealously protects its copyrighted and trademarked materials. That was Scientology’s weapon of choice when it fired the opening shots of the Internet Wars in the mid-1990s in a bid to silence its critics online. We know how that worked out. A lot of people found it grotesque that a church should go after its critics on the grounds of copyright and trademark violations.
In fact, that appears to have been one of the main factors that drew legions of libertarian-minded Netizens to the cause: a classic Scientology Foot-Bullet then. (If you need a little more background, see “Scientology v. the Internet” over at Infinite Complacency.) It is easy to understand then, why some Scientology critics have expressed a certain sense of schaudenfreude at recent developments in Moscow. But here is why I think this latest attack on the movement is built on shaky foundations.
Russia is not the first country to have refused to recognise Scientology’s religious status, arguing that it is in fact a commercial enterprise. That has been Germany’s position for a long time. But Scientology is still operating there, even if for a long time it was closely monitored by the authorities. At the moment, it looks as if all the justice ministry has to go on is the commercial nature of Scientology’s operation. There is the reference to “gross and repeated violations” of federal law, but it is not clear if they are referring to previous judgments or just making the call themselves (I’ve asked the ministry for a copy of the judgment).
We know there have been police raids on Scientology premises in Russia (as reported here at the Bunker). Presumably then, some kind of criminal investigation is underway. For the moment however, these are no more than allegations. They have not yet been tested in court: there have been no trials, no convictions.
Surely the time to start discussing shutting down Scientology in Russia would be after the organisation has been tried and convicted of criminal activities. But that is not how they do things in Russia.
As things stand then, the judgment shutting them down seems grossly disproportionate. Nor do I imagine Russian Scientologists take much comfort from the fact that they can appeal to the country’s Supreme Court – and who can blame them?
For once, Scientology’s accusations of a state conspiracy – of the executive conspiring with the judiciary against them – may not be wide of the mark. Certainly, that’s one possible reading of the three separate rulings at the European Court of Human Rights condemning Russia for its repeated refusal to let Scientology register as a church.
I wrote about the last of those rulings here at the Bunker last year. Then took a closer look at all three of the ECHR rulings at Infinite Complacency. (I know, I know: I really should get out more.)
I wrote it up under the title “Russia had it coming” – because they did. What the Strasbourg court rulings made clear was that the Russian authorities had not even respected their own laws when they went after Scientology. You can read the detailed exposé at the link above, but here is what I concluded:
A key problem any country faces in its dealings with Scientology is how to stop it abusing its members – and for that matter its critics – without infringing on its basic rights. It is not an easy balance to strike – though it is no surprise, really, that Russia keeps failing this test. The cases just examined after all, simply illustrate what happens when one authoritarian organisation comes up against another. In Russia, Scientology faced an arbitrary system steeped in bad faith, changing the rules whenever expedient: savor the irony. So when, for once, Scientology gets a taste of its own medicine, it is tempting to sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Resist the temptation. Focus instead on where Russia went wrong – and on which countries are addressing the problem most effectively.
And that brings us to one of those other countries I had in mind: Belgium.
Last week in Brussels, Christophe Caliman, the prosecutor in the trial of Scientology called for the death sentence against the Church there: dissolution. Next week and the week after, some of the top country’s lawyers will stand up and explain to the court why that is completely unacceptable. The chief judge, Yves Régimont, is completely on top of this case. We can expect his ruling some time early next year and whichever way it goes, it will be closely argued and repay careful reading.
All this to say that after two criminal investigations over 18 years, only now are we getting to the stage where the future of the Church of Scientology Belgium is truly in question. Now that’s what I call due process. And if the Church is convicted, even if the court goes for a lesser penalty, you can be sure it won’t end there.
It is a racing certainty that Scientology will take its case to the appeal court, to Belgian’s supreme court and, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights. And that is just as it should be. That is how the system should work.
For whatever conclusions you or I may have reached about Scientology, the case against the Church needs to be tested, rigorously, every step of the way. That Russia should be cutting corners is really no surprise given its human rights record and the muscular nationalism of the current regime. But the Church of Scientology, just as much as individual members, should benefit from the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty.
In Brussels at least, they are getting a proper hearing.
— Jonny Jacobsen
Professor Alexander Dvorkin responds to the Bunker
On Tuesday, we reported some of the odd things that happened at the Moscow court hearing which called for the banning of Scientology in that city. Among the interesting things included in a TV report from the courtroom were some words from Professor Alexander Dvorkin, whom we ran into in Toronto in June. Professor Dvorkin, we pointed out, has said that Ukraine prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is controlled by the American CIA through the Church of Scientology. Professor Dvorkin was good enough to send us a response, and so we’re publishing it here in full.
Tony Ortega has written an article about the decision of the Moscow City Court of Nov. 23, which banned the Moscow Church of Scientology. Somehow, he does not like the decision, but fails to explain convincingly why. All that could be understood is that Mr. Ortega does not like Russia, and what comes from Russia or happens in Russia. Perhaps that cannot be helped.
I would have left it at that, but he mentions and even misquotes me in his article, so I want to correct it. One of the issues is the question of whether Mr. Yatsenyuk, the current Prime Minister of the Ukraine, is a Scientologist, as it has been reported by some Russian media, probably erroneously. Mr. Ortega accuses me of repeating this. At the June Toronto Conference, in the presence of Mr. Ortega and many other witnesses, I very clearly stated what I numerous times have said to Russian media, that I do not believe that Mr. Yatsenyuk is currently a member of the Scientology cult. I also have stated that although I have no knowledge of his sister in California, the reports of her having a high-ranking position in the Scientology “hierarchy” look highly improbable. Some of such statements and interviews of mine have been published, and a number can easily be found on my site www.iriney.ru.
However, I also have said that according to some Ukrainian publications and reports of my trustworthy colleagues from the Ukraine (all appeared years before the current Ukrainian crisis) Mr. Yatsenyuk went through some Scientology courses when he was in the banking business in his native Tchernovtsy, before the beginning of his political career. Yes, I do believe that presently he is not a member of Scientology, at least openly. But if he had been one and had gone through auditing even at least once, they do know a lot about him and could control him. Of course, as I have said, we cannot claim this for sure; yet we cannot discard the possibility of that, especially seeing that in spite of numerous accusations, Mr. Yatsenyuk has NEVER publically said anything even mildly critical about Scientology. I repeat that all of this I have stated publicly in Mr. Ortega’s presence and he heard it.
What I said at the Toronto conference is in the session videos that participants received and have been made available to the public. I understand that Mr. Ortega spoke to the Californian niece of Mr. Yatsenyuk and she denied his involvement in Scientology. With all due respect, I permit myself to doubt this evidence. Firstly, because the young woman might not be aware of what had happened to her overseas uncle many years ago; and secondly, because if there was involvement, it is in the interests of the family to hide it. Mr. Ortega ironizes over the direct question of a Russian journalist, which was posed to a Scientology functionary, whether Scientology cooperates with the CIA. Well, it seems to me that his direct question to Mr. Yatsenyuk’s niece deserves the same irony.
Yes, I do very strongly suspect that Scientology (being in essence an intelligence organization) after its agreement with the IRS in 1993, started to cooperate (or at least to share some information) with the US intelligence community. At that time, in some kind of exchange for this service, the US State Department started lobbying in Scientology’s interests throughout the world. It is my founded opinion, which I always expressed as such. That is exactly what I’ve said in the Vesti TV interview, Mr. Ortega refers to in his article. My exact quote:”The cult [Scientology] is very influential because as of 1996 [a slip of a tongue, should be 1993] the [US] State Department lobbies the interests of Scientology throughout the world and we may suspect that Scientology shares part of the collected data with CIA”. That quote does not quite agree with Mr. Ortega’s description: “…anti-cult professor Alexander Dvorkin … quite calmly asserted that Scientology was a CIA front”.
Having said that, I believe, I have a right to suspect also that if Mr. Yatsenyuk went through auditing, Scientology could have shared some of its findings with the CIA or other appropriate Federal agency. I have stated this many times as my founded opinion. As far as I know many informed people in different countries (including US and Canada) share this view. In 1984, the Los Angeles Superior Court stated about former Scientologists:
“Each has broken with the movement for a variety of reasons, but at the same time, each is, still bound by the knowledge that the Church has in its possession his or her most inner thoughts and confessions, all recorded in ‘pre-clear (P.C.) folders’ or other security files of the organization, and that the Church or its minions is fully capable of intimidation or other physical or psychological abuse if it suits their ends. The record is replete with evidence of such abuse.”
The public record also shows that the practices of recording people’s confessions and controlling and psychologically abusing them have continued ever since. Mr. Ortega criticizes the Russian court decision and contrasts it with the Netherlands which “took a similar step recently and found that the exorbitant prices Scientology charges demonstrate that it’s a business, not a religion. But rather than ban Scientology, the country stripped the church of its tax-exempt status. That should accelerate what’s already happening there as well as most places around the world — Scientology’s rapid decline”. Actually Mr. Ortega missed that the Russian court did just that: it banned the religious organization “Moscow Scientology Church.” Now the cult (with its numerous outlets) would have to re-register as a for-profit organization, pay taxes, and be subject to consumer protection laws.
Thanks for that response, professor. We’ll just point out a couple of things. First, we made it plain in Toronto that we’re open to any evidence that Yatsenyuk is, was, or has been a Scientologist. You have offered none, except to say that he has never said anything negative about Scientology. Well, neither has Barack Obama, and yet that doesn’t lead us to believe he’s a secret member of the church. As for our original description, that you have said Yatsenyuk is controlled by the CIA through Scientology, we’ll let our readers view your own words, in English, as they were spoken on Kremlin-controlled Voice of Russia radio, which anyone can listen to for themselves…
What we know is that Yatsenyuk, before his political career he did take several Scientology courses and paid for it. It is when he was in the banking career. What it means? The basic Scientological procedure or act is the so-called auditing. Each Scientologist has to go through auditing many-many times. It is of course quite expensive and each auditing session lasts for between 2 and 4 hours. And people go over and over, and over.
The session is conducted with the help of a device which Scientologists call electro-psychometer, which is sort of a primitive form of a lie detector. And people have to tell everything that they’ve done during their lives, everything that they are ashamed of, all their sexual history, all their most hidden thoughts and desires, whatever violations of the law that they could have done and everything that happened also to their relatives, to their friends, to their acquaintances and everything.
And all this is being recorded in audio and video. Every person gets its own file in a Scientology archive and it is kept, and the information is added to each person’s file. So, if, and which is very likely, Yatsenyuk went through auditing, then definitely Scientology has something to control him…
It is no secret that Scientology as of 1994 has been cooperating very closely with the CIA of the United States of America. The State Department of the USA lobbies the interests of Scientology in all the countries of the world. And Scientology, apparently, shares some of the information it gathers with the Central Intelligence Agency. So, it means that, at least in Yatsenyuk’s case, he could be controlled by the CIA.
Thanks again for the response, professor.
Karen de la Carriere on an infiltration of Scientology
Karen discusses the weird case of Yulia Keaton, a/k/a Lia Kea, whom we interviewed a couple of years ago.
We’ve told you the troubling saga of Ken Dandar, a Tampa attorney who paid the price for representing clients against the Church of Scientology. Through a bizarre twist of events, Dandar was punished for merely representing a woman in a lawsuit against Scientology, and ended up with a million-dollar judgment against him. Still, he continues to pursue legal appeals, and has told us he believes he’ll be able, at some point, to convince a court that his civil rights were infringed by Scientology and its use of Florida’s judges.
In the meantime, he says he needs money to pursue his battle, and, like many others in a tough spot, he’s created a GoFundMe page. But we were stunned when we saw the amount he’s set as a goal. We double-checked with him, and he has set the goal at $5 million.
We’re not sure what the largest amount ever raised on GoFundMe is, but the website itself features heartwarming stories of some of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing raising amounts in the $1 to $2 million range. But that was in a nationally famous tragedy that elicited a massive emotional response.
Well, he may be aiming a bit high, but we still wholeheartedly wish Dandar luck.
On Wednesday, November 29, 1995, caretakers Valerie Demange and Rita Boykin gave Lisa McPherson two capsules of valerian root at a little after noon, with some herb tea. The herb was intended to make Lisa drowsy.
About an hour later, Lisa had some of a banana shake and more valerian root capsules. She slept for about an hour in the afternoon, but Rita reported to Janis Johnson that Lisa was just not getting the sleep she needed.
In the evening, Lisa had more of the banana shake and seven more valerian capsules. Then she slept for about three hours.
Around this time, caretaker Alice Van Grondelle approached Judy Goldsberry-Weber in the medical liaison office and asked her about the symptoms of dehydration. Judy told police later about what she told Alice.
“She didn’t say in extreme dehydration or anything. It was, ‘Do they normally run a temperature?’ I said, They can. You know, you look it up. ‘Do they become disoriented?’ I said, Any time you become dehydrated, that’s a, disorientation is one of the things, I said. I suggest they get to a doctor…I mean, if you know, if you’re really concerned, if somebody’s concerned about it, I would recommend that they see a doctor before it gets worse.”
We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.
Our book tour is concluded for now. (But you can re-experience it through this nifty interactive map!) We’ll let you know about future appearances. Previous events: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25), Adelaide (10/28), Perth (10/30)
Posted by Tony Ortega on November 29, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
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GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
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The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
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Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield