anti-sect law attacked
as abuse of human rights
29 may 2001 (extract)
Hugh Schofield <Hugh.Schofield@afp.com>
Envoyé : mardi 29 mai 2001 15:12
by Hugh Schofield
May 29 (AFP) -A new law against sects expected to be adopted by the
French National Assembly Wednesday is being described by opponents as
an assault on human liberty and a dangerous precedent for countries
like China seeking to crack down on minority faiths.
Among those expressing grave concerns about the law-which would allow
courts to shut clown associations once found guilty of a range of crimes
-- are the US administration, the established churches, European deputies
and human rights groups.
The Church of Scientology, one of 172 groups officially designated as
"secte" in France, has spearheaded the campaign against the
bill, warning of the arbitrary powers it will give to judges to suppress
beliefs and behaviour that run against the mainstream.
"If it is voted through, this law will allow the judicial authorities
to dissolve any religion, any spiritual or other group labeled' sect-like,"
wrote church-member Danièle Gounord in a special edition of its
newspaper Ethics and Liberty.
"The law attacks the essence of the freedom of conscience and association
in France;" she said.
Officially entitled "the law to reinforce the prevention and repression
of group of a sect-like character," it is the amended version of
a bill which was widely criticized when it passed a first reading last
June because of a controversial clause making a crime of "mental
That definition has now been removed after pressure from churches and
human rights groups who said it was dangerously imprecise.
Instead a new clause punishes "the abuse of ... a person in a state
of psychological or physical dependence caused by the exertion of heavy
or repeated pressure or techniques liable to alter his judgment, to
induce ... such person to do or forbear an act that is seriously prejudicial
But the Scientologists believe the new wording is "mental manipulation"
under another guise, and churches and rumen rights groups said it would
leave judges with a dangerous latitude to interpret what constitutes
A second provision would allow courts to close down associations alter
members have been convicted of crimes such as personal violence, illegal
use of medicines or misleading publicity.
"It is the ambiguity which is dangerous; " said Guy Camonici,
president of the Christian Federation of Ishovah's Witnesses in France.
"No where is the word sect used. Instead the law talks of sect-like
"As there is no definition, it means that at some point in the
future any group or association that was out of favor or unpopular could
be designated sect-like. It opens the door to all kinds of abuses,"
According to the Church of Scientology, "A court of law should
not have the power of life and death over any new religion."
Since the bill was published, US assistant secretary of state for human
rights Michael Parmly has spoken of Washington 's concern about its
"dangerously ambiguous" language, and 50 members of the Council
of Europe's parliamentary assembly called for its suspension until the
completion of a report on religious rights in France.
The heads of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in France have
also written to Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin voicing their
"reservations" about the law, which could "damage fundamental
Human rights group and minority faiths have warned that the legislation
is part of a dangerous trend visible in other parts of the world, and
could be used by China --for example-as a template for laws to suppress
the FalunGong sect.
"France is still seen as the cradle of human rights.
Whatever law is passed here other countries can copy and say it must
be acceptable because it is French. But this law kills freedom,"
said Jean Dupuis of the Church of Scientology.
Sponsors of the French law deny that it targets beliefs of any kind,
but only groups who use coercion, emotional pressure and mind-management
techniques to indoctrinate individuals and enslave them to their cause.
Polls show high popular support for action against so-called secte.
Public consciousness was boosted in France alter the mass suicides of
members of the Order of the Solar Temple in 1994 and 1995.
Subsequently a parliamentary commission drew up a list of 172 designated
secte--including Quakers and Buddhists as well as unorthodox groups
such as the Raelians--and in 1998 the government created an agency,
the Interministerial Mission to Combat Sects.