des Associations & Particuliers
pour la Liberté de Conscience
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Liberté de Conscience - Liberté de Religion - Liberté
de « lAFP » du 29 mai 2001 (extraits)
French anti-sect law attacked as abuse of human rights
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
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
"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 manipulation".
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 to him."
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 "serious
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 movements.
"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," lie said.
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 liberties,"
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
"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