Just got this from Jonny Jacobsen…
The judge in the Belgian trial of Scientology has thrown the whole case out on procedural grounds.
His ruling was delivered in three and a half hours at a terrific pace, and it threw out most charges because either the date for them to be prosecuted had expired; in some cases the judicial process had simply been inactive for too long.
Others charges were thrown out against two defendants because documents they had personally submitted to the prosecutor had gone missing.
While the prosecutor’s office had tried to argue during the trial that they were not important, but Judge Yves Régimont made it clear that this was not for him to decide.
He criticized the work of the prosecutor for having been too vague in the formulation of his charges, failing to show how specific charges applied to specific defendants.
The prosecutor, Christophe Caliman, who had followed the case for nearly 20 years now, sat stony-faced throughout the judgment.
The most serious charge he had laid against the Church of Scientology Belgium was that of being a criminal organization: He had asked for the Church to be dissolved and for a maximum fine of 200,000 euros.
But Judge Régimont said the charge was incoherent and contradictory: the evidence had shown that the Church of Scientology Brussels was subordinate to the Copenhagen-based Church of Scientology International.
For more than an hour, the judge rejected a series of technical and procedural grounds advanced by the defense, often in fairly blunt terms.
He dismissed defense arguments that one of the investigating magistrates in the case, Jean-Claude Van Espen, had shown bias because he had testified at a parliamentary inquiry on cults. He even quoted some of Van Espen’s testimony at the hearings to show that in fact, he took a balanced, nuanced view of the issue.
He rejected claims that the same magistrate had used a tax inspection of the Church as a way of surreptitiously gathering information for his investigation. A close examination of the chronology showed that the tax audit was underway well before Van Espen had started his inquiry, said the judge.
But while he rejected some of the numerous defense arguments directed against the investigators and the prosecutors, he was merciless in his critique of the way the prosecution case had been formulated.
“The court has no means of identifying the organization that is criminal,” said Judge Régimont. “The prosecutor has at no point said what constituted criminal organization,” neither in his written indictment nor in his closing arguments to court.
Instead he had supplied an endless series of internal documents from Scientology, including numerous directives from the founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
But his closing argument was contradictory because while the Church of Scientology was seen as more or less independent, investigators had established that it did not operate freely of the Church in Denmark.
The fact that most of the Belgian Church’s money went up to Copenhagen also suggested that it played a subordinate role.
“If there was a criminal organization, it was certainly not the Church of Scientology Belgium, because it was subordinate to the organization in Copenhagen,” he said.
While one could not rule out the possibility that there was a vast, criminal organization operating at a worldwide level, the court was confronted with the incoherencies and contradictions of the prosecution case. The prosecutor had failed to establish the charge.
There were similar incoherencies in the charge of criminal association, he said.
There were no elements in the closing argument, no references to relevant documents, so the court had to look itself, said the judge.
But faced with more than a hundred boxes of case files, it was asking too much of the court to establish the case from scratch.
Maître Xavier Magnée, one of the most senior lawyers on the defense team, welcomed the judgment as a victory for freedom of belief.
“The accused emerged from four years of suffering and judicial persecution and it is only justice the ruling that we have had today,” he said.
“It is a fine victory for freedom of expression, for freedom of belief and the end of a long crusade. But the feeling is one of relief and there is no time for complacency or for celebrating. We are emerging from a nightmare,” he added.
During the trial, he admitted, they had had the feeling that the Church was heading for a conviction because of all the preconceptions that the prosecutor had brought to the case, some of which, he said, had left him speechless.
“This is perhaps the first time in the history of Belgium that we put a religion on trial,” he said.
But the judgment had worldwide importance because it rejected the idea that someone’s ideology could be considered of itself a criminal offense.
The prosecutor had relied too much on the judgment and some documents from the 1996-7 convictions of several senior Scientologists in Lyon, France, said the judge.
The documents he had used in the case, which included a number of experts’ reports, could not simply be transplanted pell-mell into the Belgian case. He had to show how they applied in this context.
The Lyon Appeal court ruling, he noted, had convicted senior Scientologists on the basis of what they had done, not on the basis of what they believed, he added. But the prosecutor had not followed that example.
His lengthy closing arguments, packed with references to Scientology documents, left no doubt that so far as the prosecutor was concerned, “it was Scientology’s thinking itself that the court should punish, by convicting the defendants.”
It was not good enough, said the judge, for the prosecutor to point to the Preclear files, and say that they were used to commit fraud or to violate the private life of the person concerned. (The PC files contain sensitive information on Scientologists’ personal life.)
It was not good enough for the prosecutor to say that these files represented a danger to the people concerned.
“This is clearly the presumption of guilt and it is therefore to speak here of a complete lack of objectivity,” the judge concluded.
— Jonny Jacobsen
Here’s more background from Jonny on the case. Go here for his full scene-setter story from this morning…
The case is a composite of two separate investigations, one of which dates back as far as as 1997.
That first investigation was launched after complaints from former members of Scientology. In September 1999, police in Belgium and French raided not just Scientology premises but the offices of companies run by Scientologists in Belgium and some private homes.
Both the church in Belgium and Scientology’s European Office for Public Affairs and Human Rights, which lobbies European institutions and promotes Scientology’s social action campaigns, were charged. But in his closing arguments last November, prosecutor Christophe Caliman dropped proceedings against the European Office.
Nevertheless, several former senior officials who worked at the Office and for years acted as the public face of Scientology still face charges.
The second investigation was launched in 2008 after Actiris, the Brussels regional employment office, filed a complaint. The agency accused Scientology of having placed job ads when in fact they were not offering paid work but were trying to recruit new members.
More than 100 of those who applied for the jobs subsequently filed complaints. Some of them told investigators they had been signed up as members of the Church when they thought they were signing job contracts.
During a trial that lasted several weeks, Judge Yves Régimont clashed with defense lawyers who objected to the way he questioned the defendants. More than one of them was reduced to tears during their time on the stand.
The trial had to be delayed for two weeks after the prosecutor Caliman was taken ill. That happened as Scientology’s lawyers filed a complaint against him with the UN Special Rapporteur for International Religious Freedom alleging “egregious human rights violations.”
Caliman returned in time to present his closing arguments, but was criticized by the judge for running over his allotted time by half a day. The judge also repeatedly pressed him to show exactly how specific charges related to each of the defendants.
In his closing arguments, the prosecutor called for suspended sentences of between six and 20 months and fines running from 500 to 1,500 euros against the 12 defendants.
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BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
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