France - Scientology
AP 28 July 1997
By JEAN PERILHON
Associated Press Writer
LYON, France (AP) -- A French appeals court reduced the sentence
Monday for a Church of Scientology leader convicted of involuntary
homicide in the suicide of a member.
The court also threw out the convictions of nine Scientologists on
charges of theft, complicity or abuse of confidence, and reduced the
fines of four others convicted in the case.
In a part of the ruling that Scientology leaders called a "dramatic
victory," the court said it was not its role to judge whether
Scientology was a sect or a religion.
Prosecutors in the initial court case described Scientology as a
sect and said it was essentially an enterprise that defrauded people.
The defense argued it was a legitimate religion that was within its
rights to ask members for money.
But the appeals court said Scientology's status as a religion or a
sect was irrelevant in judging its financial activities.
"From now on, it is pointless to question whether the Church of
Scientology constitutes a sect or a religion, the freedom of belief
(in France) being absolute," the court said.
"The Church of Scientology can claim the title of being a religion,
and can operate freely."
The statement was especially significant in France, where the
parliament has branded Scientology a cult and included it on a list of
groups that should be tracked to prevent cult activities. The
government also has criticized it as a group that recruits children.
The case centered on the March 1988 suicide of Patrice Vic, 31, who
jumped out of a window. Prosecutors said he was under pressure from
the church to take a $5,000 "purification treatment," including daily
sauna treatments and a diet low in sugar and high in vitamins.
The lower court said in November that Jean-Jacques Mazier had
subjected Vic to "psychological torture." He was convicted of both
involuntary homicide and fraud and sentenced to a 3-year jail term,
with 18 months of it suspended.
On Monday, the appeals court said Mazier's sentence was too harsh
and suspended his sentence, meaning no jail time. He still must pay a
The trial centered around Vic's death, but its scope widened as
investigators uncovered evidence of financial wrongdoing and more
Scientology officials were charged.
The church called the ruling "a victory for the Church of
Scientology, now fully recognized as a religion by the Lyon court."
Founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Los
Angeles-based organization teaches that technology can expand the mind
and help solve human problems.
The group also is under attack in Germany, where a number of states
and organizations have banned Scientologists from participating in
political parties. Earlier this month, the federal government voted to
allow the country's intelligence agency to keep tabs on Scientologists