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Shut Down Scientology in Belgium: prosecutor

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Jonny JacobsenBrussels
Shut Down Scientology in Belgium: prosecutor
The Belgian prosecutor who has followed the investigation of Scientology for nearly two decades called for the Church there to be shut down.

Shut down the Church of Scientology in Belgium, the prosecutor told the judge Wednesday, in the trial of the Church and 12 individuals.

Scientology was set up with the principal aim of making money, said the Christophe Caliman, who also called for the maximum permissible fine of 200,000 euros.

The methods Scientology used, as set out in the writings of its founder L. Ron Hubbard, explicitly endorsed the criminal activities listed in the indictment, he argued. They include fraud, extortion and the illegal practice of medicine.

Caliman called for relatively minor sentences against the 12 individuals on trial. In part, he said, that was because most of the events in question dated back so many years.

Already Tuesday, he had announced at the beginning of his closing arguments that he was dropping the case against Scientology's European Office for Public Affairs and Human Rights.

But the main thrust of his closing arguments was aimed at establishing that Scientology was a criminal organisation, as set out in the indictment.

Whatever crimes the individual defendants had committed, said Caliman, it was not through over-zealousness: they had simply carried out the orders set down in the voluminous policy letters left by Hubbard.

Hubbard had insisted on the constant expansion of Scientology and internal documents not accessible to ordinary parishioners constantly stressed the need to keep the money coming in -- and keep the pressure on ordinary members to buy more courses.

The Church of Scientology in Belgium was part of a pyramid sales organisation that reported to an organisation in the United States, said Caliman.

The prosecutor spent a lot of time focusing on the alleged violations of Belgian's strict privacy laws. Scientologists were required to fill in questionnaires and to submit to interrogations known as security checks during which they were expected to divulge intimate details of their life.

Some of it was often stocked indefinitely in Scientology files and some of it was sent back and forth between Belgium and more senior organisations in the United States without the consent of those concerned.

The fact that Scientology kept such intimate details of its members' private lives on file also spoke to the charge of extortion, said Caliman.

The Church also operated a "ferocious" disciplinary system in which members were encouraged, required even, to denounce each other for perceived offences or risk being disciplined themselves for having failed to do so.

Scientologists who joined staff signed a document in which they agreed to pay the cost of the free training they were to receive as staffers if ever they left before completing their contract, he said. The threat of that bill hanging over them dissuaded some Scientologists from quitting staff when they wanted to.

"It is not very hard to grasp the basic principle underlying all policy letters and organisation," Hubbard wrote. "All our policy ... is built on EXPANSION..."

On Scientology's alleged illegal practice of medicine, Caliman focussed in particular on the Purification Rundown, a programme of exercise, sauna sessions and doses of vitamins and minerals devised by Hubbard.

An experts' report had concluded that the Purification Rundown was a fraud and that the programme did not purge toxins from the body as Scientology claimed, he said.

Doctors had expressed particular concern about the health risks posed by the high doses of Vitamin B3, or niacin: side effects could include dyspepsia, nausea, diarrohea and the aggravation of diabetes.

Auditing, Scientology's version of spiritual counselling, could also be qualified as illegal practice of medicine because of the claims Hubbard had made for it, Caliman added.

Hubbard had contended that chronically ill people were PTS  a Scientology concept meaning someone is a Potential Trouble Source because they are linked to a suppressive person (such as an enemy of the Church).

"The moment you take that attitude you can claim to cure anything, if all sick people are PTS," said Caliman. He read out internal memos seized during police raids in which Scientologists judged to be PTS were sent to do the Purification Rundown to be cured.

But Scientologists were also required to do auditing to resolve this PTS condition, said Caliman. Since illnesses were being redefined as a problem to be audited away, this practice too constituted the illegal practice of medicine.

Another policy letter by Hubbard said "touch assists" a kind of Scientology laying-on of hands, were sometimes indispensable for patients if they were to respond to conventional medical treatment. This too amounted to the illegal practice of medicine, said the prosecutor.

The Church of Scientology in Belgium is a franchise following the directives of the Mother Church in Los Angeles, said Caliman: as per Hubbard's detailed policy letters they had to pay their sales people, Field Staff Members, a fix percentage commission; they had to keep sending staff up to more senior Scientology organisations according to specific quotas.

"The Church of Scientology Belgium is part of a pyramid sales organisation," said Caliman. And the guiding principle driving it was clearly set out in a key Hubbard policy letter, he added.

"It is not very hard to grasp the basic principle underlying all policy letters and organisation," Hubbard wrote. "All our policy ... is built on EXPANSION...

"Thus when you are interpreting policy it should be interpreted only against EXPANSION as the single factor governing it."

"Expansion Theory of Policy", December 4, 1966 policy letter.

The lucrative nature of the operation was underlined by the findings in a tax specialist's report for the investigator. He found that the profit on book sales, which made up a substantial part of the Church's income, was 100 percent.

Hard sell techniques formed part of Scientology's standard operating procedure, said Caliman. And again, it was all set out in Hubbard's own writings. 

Lawyers for the defence will begin their closing arguments next Monday and they are expected to run for two weeks.

Maître Pascal Vanderveeren, representing the Church of Scientology Belgium, has told the court they will coordinate their presentations to try to avoid needless repetition. His speech though, will be a cornerstone of the defence that Church will mount.

Illustration, Au Palais, by Monique Martin, ©Fondation Monique Martin and reproduced with their kind permission.

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

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