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False Reports

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Jonny JacobsenBrussels
False Reports
The judge in the Belgian trial of Scientology repeatedly pressed one defendant to explain why he took so many security precautions if he had nothing to hide.

Judge Yves Régimont had already questioned English defendant Martin W. about computer discs that investigators had said he had tried to conceal from police when they had raided Scientology’s offices in 1999. He had categorically denied that claim.

It had also struck the judge as strange that the discs had been password-protected and that at least one of the people with whom he was dealing in his work for Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) was identified only by a codename.

Martin had explained that the passwords were a simple precaution against hackers; and the codename had been at his contact’s request.

He had also denied a suggestion that the OSA operated as a kind of security service for Scientology. But the judge nevertheless found it strange that an organisation that talked so much about transparency should behave in this way.

“Let me explain,” said Martin.

The vast majority of his work consisted of outreach work such as public relations and human rights activities. “You have to understand the context in which this was done,” he added. “The Church at the time was under a lot of attack from different quarters.

“To give you some examples, I was dealing with literally hundreds of of cases of religious discrimination, not only against my church but other minority religions, mainly in Germany and France and somewhat in Belgium.

“For example, I know of someone who was a piano teacher who was thrown out of her job because she was a Scientologist. I know of children who were refused entry into kindergarten simply because their parents were Scientologists.

“Government departments were requiring people to sign a statement that they were not in Scientology before they were allowed to have a job. Someone who worked in an atomic energy plant was thrown out, just because they were a Scientologist … They were not promoting their religion, they were thrown out because they were Scientologists.

“All these, and as I said, hundreds of other cases, were blatant examples of human rights violations – and it was coming from somewhere. Someone was generating false reports about my Church and the other minority religions.

“Things were often taken out of context, misrepresented, so if you ask me why I keep things confidential, it is because I knew that there were people who were doing this kind of thing.”

“But you are in the Church of Scientology Belgium,” said the judge. “And as far as I know you work in an office in Belgium, and so far as I know, no one is required to sign such documents in Belgium.” So why, the judge asked, would you suspect a leak in Belgium?

“I don’t know where the leak may have been, but I was talking about hackers accessing a computer from anywhere,” Martin replied. “So I think I was completely justified in maintaining confidentiality.”

Why, the judge asked, had he helped a Euro-deputy recruit a Scientologist as an assistant? 

The judge went back to the police accusation that he had tried to conceal computer discs from police during the 1999 raid of the Church’s Brussels offices, something Martin had already categorically denied. He had insisted he simply passed them to a colleague so she could continue working while he went with police to the station for questioning.

“Why did you give it to this person?” the judge asked.

“Because I did not want to take it with me,” said Martin.

“Why?”

“Because I did not know what was happening, so I had rather that the disc stay with someone I trusted..” So he had left it with Anita, another member of the Church.

The judge still found it strange that he had left such sensitive material with someone he did not actually work with. “Her position had nothing to do with why I gave it to her,” Martin replied. “She was a friend.”

“So you trusted this person,” said the judge. But what he still wanted to know was why he had not wanted anyone to find the disc – a password-protected disc, mind – on him?

“Because I saw that all the things were being taken from the Church and these were current activities that I was working on, so I wanted to be sure that I could continue to work on them.”

“So it wasn’t because you didn’t want us finding out what was on these discs?” the judge asked.

By this time, Martin was beginning to feel the pressure. Some of his fellow defendants had dissolved into tears when the judge kept pressing for clearer answers: not Martin, but he was becoming increasingly exasperated.

“The reason was – as I said – because I wanted to be able to continue working,” he said. “And what I saw was my Church being raided and stopped from working, and I didn’t want to be stopped from working.”

Judge Régimont went back to the actual contents of the discs in question. Investigators had found a document about an MEP (a member of the European Parliament) who was looking for a secretary. Martin W. had helped find a Scientologist to fill the position, the judge noted.

“Is that accurate?” the judge asked. “Or is that just a far-fetched interpretation of the investigators?”

“I will explain,” said Martin. He did not want this to misinterpreted, he added. “I can explain the situation.” The MEP was also someone who wrote about the Holocaust and he had met a colleague of Martin’s in the United States, he said.

“He knew of the work we were doing in exposing human rights abuses and discrimination, and he asked my colleague if he knew of anybody who would be interested in helping him in the European Parliament. She in turn asked me if I knew anybody. I eventually found somebody and she started to work for him.”

And did this writer, this MEP, know that the person hired was a Scientologist, the judge asked?

“Absolutely,” said Martin. “And can I just add, I do not understand why this is in the case file. If there was some wrongdoing, then why did the prosecutor not question the MEP or her assistant?”

The judge acknowledged Martin’s explanation: but he repeated that what had struck the investigators – and the prosecutor’s office – as strange, was that when the police had raided Scientology’s offices Martin had had three computer discs in his possession, discs that were password-protected. And those discs turned out to have fairly sensitive information on them.

“You say you don’t see the problem,” said the judge. “Can you not understand that one might ask about the real role of the OSA?” Because he was still not clear about what exactly the OSA did, said the judge. “You have never given us a clear explanation.”

“Excuse me,” said Martin, indignant now. “I thought I had answered that question.” As indeed he had, (if not to the judge’s satisfaction).

He tried again: the OSA was to present the work of the Church to governmental and non-governmental organisations, work that was important because Scientology needed to correct the “false information about the Church”. The OSA also rolled out the Church’s social reform activities, he added: “That is the primary role of the OSA,” he insisted.

“If you don’t understand, let me give you an example,” he added, with more than a hint of irritation. But the judge broke in again: he had some examples of his own.

* While most of the defendants were not identified during the trial, Martin W. was one of a handle of Scientologists named in some media reports: the role he once played as a Church spokesman meant he was already a public figure. I am nevertheless adopting the same policy with all the defendants and respecting the general convention in the Belgian media, which is not to identify defendants before they have actually been convicted.

Photo: "Palais de Justice de Bruxelles"by Roby, courtesy of a GNU License.

1) These were cases that Scientology cited in the 1990s in Germany and in France. See here for more on Scientology’s position on what it says is discrimination in Germany; and here for Scientology’s submission to the OSCE on its allegations of religious discrimination by the French authorities.

#Belgium, #trial, #Scientology

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