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"Human Trafficking"

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Jonny JacobsenBrussels
"Human Trafficking"
The judge in the Belgian trial of Scientology condemned the treatment of job applicants who had worked at the Brussels church for weeks in the hope of getting paid.

Judge Yves Régimont was pressing the defendant Myriam Z.* hard on the question of the job ads Scientology had placed in the local press: ads that in the end, did not lead to paid employment.

She explained that she had not placed the ads herself; and that it was the mistake of an individual Scientologist that some applicants were told they would be paid: but the judge did not seem satisfied.

Each time Myriam answered one question, the judge produced a statement from one of the job applicants that either contradicted her or raised another difficult question.

Now he produced one from another job seeker, a Monsieur J. He too had told investigators how the job he thought he was applying for had never materialised.

“I explained that I was there for a job and that we had not even talked about it in two days and that in the end I had to commit to something without knowing what it was,” he said in his statement. The reaction of the Scientologists was that he could buy books and resell them to make a living, he added.

“For two days they talked about everything except a job,” said the judge. How could she reconcile that with what they had put in the job ads? “You do not publish a job ad to convert people to Scientology,” he said.

“I did not know Monsieur J. and I didn’t speak to him,” said Myriam. “But he clearly understood that it was not something for him.

"To my knowledge, of all the people who entered, there were only a few who bought a book, and there were plenty of books on display – it is not forbidden,” she added.

The judge raised the case of another job applicant who had been handled by Madame P. She had been told that she would earn 1,200-1,300 euros net. She had signed a church membership form after being told that it was a job contract.

“Mme P. should never have said this,” said Myriam. “We have corrected her on that. Apparently that happened at the beginning but not after that.”

“There were 161 people who were approached in the same way!” the judge retorted. “Quand même!

“Yes,” said Myriam. “But people were approached correctly.” She named another Scientologist involved in the project, a Mme. D. “She never had any problems with anyone.”

“We can go on all morning,” said the judge – and he seemed more than willing to do so.

He mentioned another woman who had replied to the ad. She told investigators that she had been promised paid work. “She was asked extremely personal questions,” said the judge. “She signed a membership contract, and then what?”

Myriam knew the name and acknowledged the woman in question had not been happy with her treatment. But they had intervened and put things right, she added.

Judge Régimont cited another case: this time of a woman who had worked at the Church for 18 days in the hope of being paid, but in the end never was.

“That is called human trafficking, Madame!”

“That was not the intention,” Muriel protested. “It was not in that spirit. It was in the spirit of voluntary work … it was not in the spirit of human trafficking.”

“I do not say that she was lying,” said the defendant. “But … she was not correctly informed… ”

The judge was not convinced. “One case, okay. Two? That can happen. Even three, even five – but around a hundred people, all of whom were looking for work, who were in precarious circumstances, they all answered a vague advert…”

“They even go so far as working 18 days in the hope of being paid, and finally realize that they have been sold…(1)

“Was the idea to get more and more people to sign these contracts – and never mind how? Is that part of the philosophy of the Church of Scientology? What about all this talk of freedom? They are not free, these people!”

“I didn’t personally take part in this,” said Myriam. “When I met people, it was later… They needed to ask permission to do voluntary work. These are the people I saw. So I checked again that these people had been well-informed.

But the judge had another statement, from another of the would-be job applicants.

A Mme B. had confronted Myriam about the fact that the contract she had signed was for voluntary work, not paid employment. Mme B. had told investigators: “She [Myriam] said I had been told it was voluntary, which was false."

“I do not say that she was lying,” said Myriam. “But what I am saying is that she was not correctly informed and it is a shame that it happened that way.” (2)

Bien,” said the judge, and he moved on to the Life History Forms that some applicants had been given to fill in: a questionnaire that includes extremely intimate questions including ones about the subject’s sex life.

“When you asked people to fill in these forms with questions that are extremely indiscreet – the Life History Form – some people asked what this had to do with their job,” the judge noted.

“They signed a document in which they consented that this information be kept…” he added.

“It is not true these people signed a document,” said Myriam.

“So are they lying,” the judge asked again.

“I don’t know what this is about but I know that these people signed documents to do with the protection of private life,” she replied.

“It is true that this exercise was not a success,” she conceded.

Judge Régimont produced another case: a job applicant who had signed a document stating she declared her membership of the Church of Scientology and pledged to spread the Scientology word. When investigators had questioned Mme V. about it, she said she thought they had mixed up the forms.

"If they signed it it was a mistake," Mme V. had told investigators. "And it was Mme Z. who should have checked."

“So," the judge asked. "Why have people signed this when they came for a job?”

“It was not the aim to give them a job or a work contract,” said Myriam.

“I’m sorry, but the advertisement was for a job,” said the judge.

“It was fairly general,” she replied. “And I checked with the lawyers and with Actiris and they said it was not a problem.”

“That was afterwards,” said the judge. “And it is strange that Actiris should say that when they filed the complaint.” (It was the complaint filed by Actiris, the Brussels regional employment office, that had set off the investigation.)

“It is true that this exercise was not a success,” she conceded.

“That is putting it mildly!” said the judge. “Did you contact these people afterwards?”

“I was not involved in day-to-day activities,” Myriam replied.

“You were president in 2008!” the judge objected. “You were responsible for the daily operations of the Church, that was part of your daily activity, so how could you fail to know?”

“We took this initiative and I was informed,” she said, but the judge was becoming increasingly exasperated. “It is true that this exercise was not a success,” she conceded.

“That is putting it mildly!” said the judge. “Did you contact these people afterwards?”

“I was not involved in day-to-day activities,” Myriam replied.

“You were president in 2008!” the judge objected. “You were responsible for the daily operations of the Church, that was part of your daily activity, so how could you fail to know?”

“We took this initiative and I was informed,” she said, but the judge was becoming increasingly exasperated. "So you are a president who does not know what is happening in her operation!

“‘It wasn’t me, it was the other person,’: that is what you keep telling me,” said the judge.

“You explained to me earlier what the president’s responsibilities were and now you are saying that when you were president, you were not involved in the daily activities.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but that is fairly strange.”

Myriam explained that even though she had assumed the president’s role, she had retained her earlier post as Director of Special Affairs (DSA).

“So you could handle both jobs, but not Monsieur G.?” asked the judge, referring to one of her predecessors as president of the Church, fellow defendant Vincent G.

Myriam tried to reply, but the judge was losing patience.

“‘It wasn’t me, it was the other person’: that is what you keep telling me,” he said. ‘It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me – it was someone else.’”

“It was Mme B. who took that initiative and Mme V. was responsible for managing personnel,” she said.

“We will hear from her later,” said the judge. Jeannine V was the one defendant in court he had yet to question.

* While Belgian law allows me to identify the defendants, most of the news media here choose not to do that. After consulting with local colleagues, I was told that the convention is to wait until the judgment. It seems reasonable to respect that practice.

Photo: "Galeries de façade du palais de Justice de Bruxelles" by Jean Houssen, under a Creative Commons licence.

1) According to my notes, there was a fair bit of background chatter in the courtroom at the time: so either he didn’t finish sentence or I didn’t catch it (the former, I think). 

2) She actually said “he”, but I’m guessing that was a mistranslation by the interpreter that led to her misunderstanding what the judge said. I’m pretty sure I heard both the judge and the interpreter correctly.

#Scientology, #Belgium, #trial

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