Charity Fraud
FRANCE WARNS SECTS INFILTRATING AID, HEALTH SECTORS

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Scientology's doublecross

FRANCE WARNS SECTS INFILTRATING AID, HEALTH SECTORS
Agence France Presse
February 19, 2002
http://www.ttc.org/ta20219a.htm

PARIS, Feb 19 (AFP) - France's state anti-cult body warned Tuesday that sects are infiltrating aid efforts in disaster zones like New York after September 11, drawing an angry outburst from the Church of Scientology that it is the victim of a "witch-hunt."

The Inter-Ministerial Mission for the Fight against Sects (MILS) said in its annual report that groups on its blacklist -- including the Church of Scientology -- are moving beyond their traditional activities of offering "training" courses and para-medical "therapies" in a quest for new recruits and respectability.

They were now "not hesitating to take advantage of strife in the world" to peddle their dogma to vulnerable individuals, warned the report, which has been handed to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Members of the Church of Scientology, for instance, it said, were seen around the ruins of the World Trade Center after the September 11 attacks approaching grieving individuals and stunned passers-by.

They were also at the site of an accidental September 21 blast at a petrochemical plant in the southern French city of Toulouse that killed 30 people and injured 2,500, the report said.

But a US lawyer engaged by the Church of Scientology, Aram Kevorkian, held a news conference with French members of the group immediately after the release of the report saying its allegations were unfounded.

"In good old English, we call that bullshit," he said, adding: "I think Scientology is the victim of a witch-hunt in this country."

He showed a letter he said the French branch of the church had sent to Jospin on Tuesday that claimed the MILS was an illegal state body because it discriminated against minority religions and because it had never defined what it meant by "sects."

The letter called for the dissolution of the MILS, and Kevorkian said his client would pursue that aim through the courts up to the European level if necessary.

France, unlike the United States, does not recognise the Church of Scientology as a religion, instead labelling it a dangerous cult.

Last year, the French parliament passed a controversial law giving judges the power to clamp down on sects that used methods such as brainwashing or drugs to lure and hold new members, and to shut down a group if it has been convicted of a range of offences.

The hardline stance has drawn heated criticism not only from notable Scientology members, among which are US actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, but also from the US government and human rights groups, concerned it allowed the persecution of religious minorities.

In its report, the MILS said its vigilance had limited the number of people joining sects in France. It put the total number of sect members in the country at 400,000, of which around half were Jehovah's Witnesses.

It said that the Church of Scientology, which it said was "absolutely a sect" for using vigorously applied lawsuits to muzzle public scrutiny, only had a very small number of members.

Nevertheless, it expressed concern that sects were working their way into the health sector, soliciting funds given to enterprises in the sector to widen their influence among the ill.

The report called for greater legislative regulation of groups involved in humanitarian aid and health care and for better coordination among ministries.

The MILS also said it was receiving more and more support for its active targeting of sects from other European and Asian countries, and noted that the United Nations now carefully screened non-governmental organisations before giving them accreditation.

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