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Prosecutor sick: Belgian Scientology trial delayed

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Jonny JacobsenBrussels
Prosecutor sick: Belgian Scientology trial delayed
Belgium's trial of Scientology has been delayed after the prosecutor who has followed the case for nearly two decades fell ill.

Belgium’s trial of the Church of Scientology and a dozen of its members has been interrupted for two weeks after the prosecutor in charge of the case was taken ill.

News of Christophe Caliman's illness came the same day a Scientology group announced it had filed a complaint against him with a UN body for “egregious” human rights violations.

Caliman was not present when the trial resumed Monday morning after a week-long break. Prosecutor Jean-Pascal Thoreau told the court that his colleague had been taken ill. At the start of the afternoon’s proceedings he said that Caliman would be on sick leave until Friday, November 20 and asked for the prosecutor's closing arguments to be postponed.

Caliman had originally been scheduled to present his much-awaited closing argument on Tuesday. Since the prosecution case is that the Church of Scientology Belgium is a criminal organisation, observers have been waiting to see if he would call for its dissolution. Another Scientology organisation, the Brussels-based European Office for Public Affairs and Human Rights is also on trial.

Judge Yves Régimont, after consulting with the lawyers, pushed back the schedule: the prosecutor’s closing arguments are now set for Tuesday, November 24, with defence arguments starting on November 30.

If, on November 24, Caliman is not able to present his arguments, his colleague Thoreau will have to step in. He made it clear Monday that this arrangement would be far from ideal. His presence at the trial was more to provide technical support to his colleague, he explained.

Caliman has a detailed knowledge of what has become a massive case file incorporating two separate investigations. He has worked on it for nearly two decades and in court has taken the lead in questioning the defendants.

Thoreau, though an experienced prosecutor in his own right, would be at a distinct disadvantage if he had to take over. But as Judge Régimont made clear, the other commitments of the defence lawyers and the three judges would make it very difficult to change the trial calendar any further.

News of prosecutor Caliman’s illness came the same day that a Scientology group announced it had lodged a complaint against him with the UN Special Rapporteur for International Religious Freedom.

The Scientologists Alliance for Freedom in Europe (SAFE) did not name M. Caliman in its complaint. But it denounced the prosecutor in charge of the case for having “...initiated an intrusive, 18 year-old investigation into sincerely held Scientology religious beliefs and peaceful religious practices targeting Scientologists and the Scientology religious community.”

From Spain, SAFE spokesman Ivan Arjona said in the statement: “I live in a country where Scientology is recognized as a religion by the State, and where the rights of Scientologists are protected as they are in most European countries that respect religious freedom as part of our common heritage.

“Yet, the prosecutor has trampled on the rights of Scientologists in Belgium to religious freedom for over two decades, requiring Scientologists everywhere to stand up for their rights and protest religious persecution.”

They were asking the Special Rapporteur to monitor the trial and to take up their complaint with the Belgian government, he added.

SAFE describes itself as “a grassroots initiative by Scientologists from all over Europe” whose aim it to promote human rights, particularly in the field of religious freedom.

The Belgian trial of Scientology opened on October 26 and has so far run for five days. The defendants deny charges of fraud; extortion; criminal organisation; forgery and the use of false documents; violation of privacy; and the illegal practice of medicine.

Under the revised schedule, the defence will start its closing arguments on November 30. Given that there are 12 individuals and two organisations on trial, they will run over eight days until December 11.

The prosecutor has had health problems before. In September 2010 Caliban was taken ill during a trial and had to be hospitalised.

See here for a complete list of the coverage so far.

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