Bern: sect report presented

Feds treat sects with kid gloves

The Scientology Church and other sects to continue without preventive surveillance

Bern, Switzerland
December 16, 2000
Neue Luzerne Zeitung

gr. The often extremely obtrusive behavior of Scientology members has led alternately to tension and to forceful reaction. The status report of the Federal Office of Police (BAP) acknowledged that in the status report published yesterday. But because no intelligence operations or attempts to infiltrate government positions have been ascertained, the federal government will not take any active measures. The BAP came to the same conclusion in their first status report in 1998. The situation will be re-evaluated as dictated by developments.

Sect experts can accept these conclusions, but point out that the sect scene has drastically changed. The dangerous self-dynamic of these groups, which can be extremely risky for members, is a source of concern for renowned sect expert Georg Otto Schmid. Yet the federal assembly does not want to get involved with its own sect politic and neither is it ready to give counseling centers a helping hand in the matter of financial support.

Central Switzerland not immune

There are also numerous minor and major sects in central Swiss cantons. Experts observe, in essence, three categories. The first current is very closely aligned with the Catholic conservative milieu. Inner Switzerland also provides fertile ground for the radical Protestant groups. The third strong category consists of esoterically oriented sects like the Universal Church.


Sects: federal government regards surveillance as unnecessary

Great risk from small sects

The sect scene is getting harder and harder to keep track of and is getting root in familial circles. Influence from larger organizations like Scientology is currently dwindling.

by Gregor Poletti, Bern

"Sects and the Scientology Organization are still as controversial as they have ever been in Switzerland. But there are currently no grounds for surveillance by state security organs," found the Federal Office of Police (BAP). They stated that there is no risk to internal security. Renowned sect specialist Georg Otto Schmid also believed that statement from the sect report published yesterday was the case.

Dwindling membership of the large sects

Besides that, in the case of the most well known organization, Scientology, there is yet to prove deliberate attempts to infiltrate private companies or government agencies by means of intelligence operations. Schmid, director of the Evangelical Information Center on Churches, Sects and Religions, replied to our question that it was a matter not of intention, but of the potential of Scientology: "The risk potential of this group is on the decline since it can no longer make up its loss of personnel." Because of the degree of public awareness, it is getting harder for Scientology to recruit new members. Besides that, infiltration is hindered by the fact that members have to identify themselves if they are asked directly about membership.

Nevertheless Scientology still continues to try, as shown by the example of a private school in Lucerne. When it was revealed a year ago that a teacher and a representative of the school were members of Scientology, the governing school board revoked approval to run the school.

Small, but not nice

In the meantime, the number of active Scientologists in Switzerland has been estimated at considerably less than 4,000. While the large sects have to get more aggressive to come up with new members, numerous small sects are shooting up out of nowhere. Since the beginning of the 1970s, the number of sects has gone up sixfold. Of the approximately 800 religious groups and sects, about 200 are regarded as extreme and dangerous. "The trend of small, almost familial structures will continue," Schmid is convinced, "at a frantic pace." Part of the potential of risk from the small groups comes from unfamiliarity with their structures and their strong compartmentation. "Just this morning I had someone ask me about a new small sect in Toggenburg," said Schmid, "which had prophesied the end of the world the next few days."

He said three main currents of sects can be discerned in central Switzerland. There are those aligned with the conservative Catholic milieu, like the "Michaelsvereinigung." Central Switzerland also offers fertile territory for radical Protestant currents. As the third strong groups Schmid named esoterically oriented sects like the Universal Church.

"Sobering and disappointing"

The attitude of federal authorities to sects could be "judged to be as withheld as it was before." Less indulgent than the BAP, for example, the Infosekta association goes to court with the state government. "Sobering and disappointing" was the verdict. Especially disturbing to the about ten active counseling center is the refusal of the federal assembly to come up with a sect politic even though the national assembly's Business Review Commission had urgently requested it. So the counseling centers cannot count on getting any financial support from the federal government in the future, either. Wholly in contrast to other countries in Europe. People in France, for example, are especially aware, where a special sect commission is addressing this problem.


... And the federal government looked the other way

by Juerg auf der Maur

Thousands of people have come to be directly or indirectly affected by sects in Switzerland. Either they are themselves members or their acquaintances or families are suffering the circumstances. These range from psychic dependency of the members to self-dedication to the point of personal financial catastrophe. Ever since the Sun Temple tragedy, Switzerland also knows what sect gurus and their uncritical followers are capable of.

The report presented by the Federal Justice and Police Department yesterday on Scientology and sects in Switzerland describes the latest developments from which it draws the conclusion that since the larger sects are having a hard time recruiting adherents, smaller sects are shooting up like mushrooms. While official state churches are plagued by the departure of their members, sects and cult-like groups - for whatever reason - are enjoying the fruits of favoritism.

The perspective taken by the highest Swiss police is soothing only at first glance: they say sects in Switzerland do not threaten the state and that no more measures need to taken than were taken two years ago.

That is all well and good. Only the questions behind the report are being asked in the wrong direction. In any case its results are of little benefit to those people affected by sects. The study is more or less the continuation of a politic which was already presented last summer and was duly criticized: the federal government does not believe a Swiss sect politic is necessary.

The state does not intend to intrude into citizens' private perspectives and pleads for self-responsibility, as is right in many areas. That is a great idea but it is being applied in the wrong place. When complete disorientation and financial debacle are imminent, the principle of self-responsibility should not be the sole standard used.

Against surveillance of sects

SCIENTOLOGY / Sects and the Scientology organization are not currently a threat to the internal security of Switzerland. That is the conclusion come to by the Federal Office of Police (BAP) in a new situation report.

Bern, Switzerland
December 16, 2000
Der Bund

ap. Structure and activities of sects and Scientology have hardly changed since the first investigation in 1998 wrote the BAP in its second status report, "Scientology and Sects in Switzerland." It was said that no activities had been ascertained which would justify preventive surveillance. In the case of Scientology neither intelligence activities nor deliberate attempts to infiltrate government agencies or private corporations were proven. The BAP will re-evaluate the situation according to developments and remain in contact with foreign agencies.

The BAP also referred to the international group of experts under management of the Federal Police who reported in 1999 on the new millennium and the status of sects and Scientology. The analysis back then was that there was no risk for internal security, which is said to be verified by the non-occurrence of negative incidents.

Report from the Federal Office of Police

No special surveillance for Scientology or sects

Zurich, Switzerland
December 15, 2000

Bern - As has been the case, the Scientology Church and other sects will not be put under preventive surveillance by state security organs. While the groups were controversial, it was said that they did not pose a threat to domestic security.

That conclusion was reached in the report "Scientology and Sects in Switzerland" by the Federal Office of Police. It was further said that the structure and activities of Scientology and sects had hardly changed since 1998. According to developments, the situation was going to be re-evaluated. Contact with security agencies of other European countries would remain open.

klei (source: sda)

Federal Assembly

Basic Rights and Religious Freedom more important than sect politic

Sects leave Federal Assembly cool

Lucerne, Switzerland
June 30, 2000
Neue Luzerner Zeitung

The Federal Assembly does not want to pursue a sect politic. National Assemblyman Heinrich Estermann (CVP, Lucerne) demands, in rebuttal, a national ombudsman center for people affected by sects.

adm/ap. The Business Review Commission (Geschaeftspruefungskommission, GPK) of the National Assembly demanded action in their sect report to the Federal Assembly. [Nat'l Assembly: lower house, Fed. Assembly: upper house - trans.] They said that children and consumers needed more protection from sects and commercial psycho-corporations. They said what was most needed was the creation of a national counseling and information center. The GPK was activated after the Sun Temple tragedy.

Expense too great

Protection for consumers and children, along with their health is already adequately provided for in the scope of federal competency, determined the Federal Assembly in its answer, published yesterday. It was keeping basic rights and religious freedom as a first priority. State security organs would be permitted to get involved only when concrete signs of a threat to inner security was at hand, when racist activities occurred, when it was dealing with organized crime or when a foreign ban had been placed on the organization. The Federal Assembly said the flow of information within the federal government could be improved. However, it rejected the creation of the information and advice center requested by the GPK. It was said that such a center could obtain more information only at great expense.

Research worth looking into

It was said that public information work on sects was not a matter primary to the federal government. Targeted information to schools, youth organizations counseling centers, police and justice agencies, however, were said to be worth looking into. For instance, the legal situation was worth knowing about and the necessary sensitivities in dealing with those affected by sects should be promoted. It was said that the interdisciplinary research demanded by the GPK would be welcome. But that it should be initiated and maintained by the universities and research centers.

Basic rights apply to all

In general, the Federal Assembly maintained that basic rights were due not only to members of sects, but to assimilative groups. However, most of the new religious and weltanschauung movements did not meet that profile. The state, said the Federal Assembly, had only to deal with any group that posed a danger to its members in a physical, spiritual ["spiritual" includes mental ...trans.] or financial regard.

Improve Coordination

Lucerne CVP National Assemblyman Heinrich Estermann, member of the Business Review Commission, is only partially in agreement with the Federal Assembly. He said support and counseling of people affected by sects varies from canton to canton [Switzerland is a confederation of cantons. ....trans.] "Better coordination is urgently needed," Estermann pointed out, convinced. He suggests a type of national ombudsman center to which people affected by sects can turn to. He said that should not be a huge apparatus, but more of a reference center for people who call in. Besides, Estermann stressed, such a center could also help improve the national coordination for the problem. Philippe Flammer of the Infosekta counselling center in Zurich does not at all agree with the answer from the Federal Assembly.

Since you asked...

Lucerne, Switzerland
July 1, 1999
Neue Lucerne Zeitung

by Martin Scheidegger, Sect Expert

"Don't let yourself be pulled into a discussion."

The Federal Court decision hardly makes it more difficult for Scientology to lure in new people, says sect expert Martin Scheidegger*, because "The state cannot do much against the expansion of sects."

According to the federal court, Scientology may be restricted in its advertising activity. Will that make it more difficult for the organization to lure in new people?

Martin Scheidegger:
No, I don't think so. After all, there are still other methods of advertising: lectures will be given which are praised by newspaper inserts or in advertising sent by mail. And there is word-of-mouth propaganda, which is often more effective than advertising on the street.

In your eyes, then, limiting advertising activities is not a tried and true means of stemming the tide of totalitarian sects?

Martin Scheidegger:
The state absolutely has an interest in fighting certain loose cannons, but it cannot do very much because essentially all sectarian groups are able to invoke freedom of religion. The federal court has now drawn a boundary in the area of advertising. However, it was not very clearly defined at all: what does "annoying" mean? What is "unfair"? How about "deceptive"? These questions will have to cleared up with new criminal proceedings.

Then how can action be taken against the loose cannon?

Martin Scheidegger:
The important thing is be be informed, to speak in plain language about the methods used by the various groups and to warn people about them. That doesn't happen with pretend battles over the question of whether Scientology is a religion or not. It only happens when one takes a look at the Scientology texts. Then one sees what kind of nonsense is there and what kind of indoctrination is behind it.

Scientology may not be the only group from which people deserve to be warned. Which sects are strongly active in central Switzerland?

Martin Scheidegger:
In our region the American Landmark psychosect is very much present, not on the street, but by recruiting using word-of-mouth propaganda. On the street you can meet Jehova's Witnesses, Mormons, Universal Life, and rather fewer Hare Krishnas. One should especially be on guard for new esoteric categories, such as the "I'AM" movement.

What should one do when accosted on the street by a sect member?

Martin Scheidegger:
One should not decide anything on the street nor let oneself be influenced on the street. Therefore I advise not to be drawn into a discussion and also to make it clearly understood that nothing is needed. At the most on the street, one should only accept a leaflet or a little brochure.


* Theologian Martin Scheidegger manages the ecumenical counseling center of "Religious Special Groups and Sects" in Lucerne. The center gathers material and distributes information on existing and new groups and critically researches their offerings on world view.


State Positions not Infiltrated

From: "News Window", Switzerland
August 31, 1998

(sda/yz) The Consulting Security Commission (KSK) is not issuing Scientology an "operator's license." However, they will not be put under observation by the federal police because the "church" today does not present an imminent danger to the internal security of Switzerland.

The advisory organ of the Swiss Federal Justice and Police Department (EJPD) for Matters of State Security presented a report in Berne, which it had required from a work group under the direction of Federal Police Chief Urs von Daeniken. The main reason for the report was the accusations against Scientology because of its financial practices.

According to the report, here in Switzerland there are a maximum of 4,000 active members of Scientology, which was founded by the American, Ron Hubbard. It came to Switzerland at the end of the 1960's. Today it has centers in the cantons of Zurich, Berne, Lucerne, Basel, St. Gallen, Tessin, Waadt and Geneva - primarily in the cities of Zurich and Lausanne. According to the report, the movement stagnated in Switzerland about 15 years ago.

Totalitarian Characteristics

As the Work Group has determined, numerous members of Scientology are under enormous pressure to attain new services, devices and books. However, it will be the authorities and consumer protection agencies will be devote their attention to this aspect, not state security.

Characteristics of a totalitarian system are evident in Scientology. For protection against its real or alleged dangers, it uses intelligence activities, states the report. At this time, however, there is no evidence of infiltration into government positions in Switzerland.

Seen altogether, surveillance of Scientology as a preventive measure by the police will be waived. However, after a certain period of time, the situation will be re-evaluated based on publicly accessible information, in particular that available from other European countries.

In Germany Scientology is being observed by the domestic intelligence agency. According to von Daeniken, the movement there is not only represented more strongly quantitatively. They are also more aggressive commercially. The cantons are entirely prepared to bring proceedings against punishable actions such as threats or duress.

A Lack of "Sect Information"

In the discussion about groups which have been designated as sects, objective information is sometimes difficult to obtain, stated the work group. Because of this, observation centers should be established at scientific university institutions which offer independent factual information to both the public and to the authorities.

The General Secretary of the EJPD and President of the KSK, Andreas Huber, has determined that today, no sect is active in Switzerland whose activities justify preventive police surveillance by internal security. He is convinced that the national authorities should be called in upon dissenters "as late as possible" and should not force them underground. Bans and supervision of opinion are to be avoided.

Threat of Legal Steps

(sda/yz) For Scientology, the report of the Consulting State Security Commission (KSK) a striking example of how a campaign is led against the religious community with "wrong" information. They greet the decision to forgo surveillance as correct.

Scientology accuses the KSK of wanting to spread disinformation and of manipulating the public and the officials. They demand an open discussion with the commission in order to reach a corrected understanding. In a different case, legal steps because of insult to personality and violation of basic rights would have been unavoidable, stated a distributed communiqué of the Church of Scientology Zurich.

(c) 1998 News-Window