Copyright 1997 Agence France Presse January 18, 1997 18:18 GMT SECTION: International news LENGTH: 294 words
DATELINE: MILAN, Italy, Jan 18 1997
A Milan appeal court has sentenced 29 members of the Church of Scientology to between nine and 20 months' jail for criminal association, the Corriere della Serra reported Saturday.
It said the ruling was handed down on December 2 after an appeal by Milan prosecutors against the acquittal of 67 of 74 Scientologists six years ago.
The remaining seven then were given light sentences for ill-treatment of people regarded as mentally weak, but they all were acquitted of tax evasion charges even though the Church refuses to pay taxes.
In December's court ruling, the stiffest penalty of 20 months was given to Gabriele Segalla, who is considered to have brought Scientology to Italy.
The cult claims to have 100,000 members in italy, but is often accused of taking advantage of its members by promising happiness in return for money.
A Scientology spokesman, Fabio Amicarelli, said Scientologists were being victimised in Italy just as much as in Germany.
German authorities accuse the Scientologists of anti-democratic behaviour and "pretentions at domination," while in Bavaria they are banned from civil service jobs.
"We are being persecuted because we are growing and because people find positive answers with us and our churches are always full," Amicarelli said, in reaction to the Milan court's ruling.
Background on the case from prior years.
December 6, 1986, Saturday, AM cycle
SECTION: International News
LENGTH: 260 words
Police Crack Down on Scientologists
DATELINE: MILAN, Italy
Authorities said Saturday they closed all 16 Italian offices of the Church of Scientology and seized books, documents and financial records.
The raids began Thursday and involved Treasury and Carabinieri paramilitary police. Officials also announced the closing of 11 Narconon drug rehabilitation centers, but did not elaborate on the connection.
Raids were conducted in 20 cities including Milan, Turin, Florence, Rome, Genoa and Naples. The last one was Saturday when police shut down a recently opened Scientology office in the eastern town of Macerata.
No arrests were made or charges filed. The office of Milan investigating magistrate Guicla Mulliri said the raids were part of an investigation into possible physical abuse, fraud, violation of labor laws and tax evasion.
The president of the Italian chapter of Scientology, Silvio De Fante, told a news conference Friday: "These charges have to be proved and there has been no proof."He declined to discuss the church's financial status, but said, "We will continue with donations. Every church survives by donations." Scientology, founded in the United States by L. Ron Hubbard, the author of "Dyanetics," combines self-improvement theories with counseling and instructional seminars.
The U.S. government has long claimed that Scientology is not a religion and should not be exempt from taxes.
In 1978, federal agents raided Scientology headquarters in Los Angeles and Boston and seized documents that authorities claimed showed infiltration of government agencies by Scientologists.
Copyright 1989 Reuters The Reuter Library Report
March 29, 1989, Wednesday, AM cycle
LENGTH: 188 words
75 Church of Scientology Leaders Go on Trial in Italy
DATELINE: MILAN, March 29
Seventy-five leaders of the Church of Scientology in Italy went on trial on Wednesday on charges including fraud, tax evasion and illegal practice of medicine.
The defendants were ordered to stand trial by magistrate Guicla Mulliri, who investigated the group at the instigation of relatives of members of the Church, founded by American L. Ron Hubbard.
Parents said they were not allowed any contact with their children who had joined the Church or entered its drug rehabilitation programmes.
The investigation made headlines in Italy in December 1986 when police confiscated records from Church branches and drug rehabilitation centres throughout the country.
The defendants are also charged with defrauding local governments because of contributions to the drug programmes, which the prosecution says did not meet medical standards.
Outside the courthouse, supporters of the defendants held up banners accusing the prosecution of carrying out a "modern inquisition" against freedom of religion.
They set free 75 doves to protest against the trial, which was adjourned until next week after opening formalities.