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Prosecutor urges court to evict Church of Scientology from Paris


February 22, 2002



PARIS (AP) -- A prosecutor on Friday urged a Paris court to disband the
Church of Scientology in the French capital, where the organization is on
trial for attempted fraud and false advertising in its efforts to recruit
and keep its members.

State Prosecutor Christine Forey also requested a minimum 300,000-euro
fine (dlrs 261,000) against the Church of Scientology, which has 20,000
members in Paris. The organization claims a membership of 40,000 in
France.

The two-day trial that started Thursday stems from complaints by former
Paris-based Scientologists who said they were bombarded with publicity
materials in the mail from the group after announcing their wish to end
their memberships.

In closing arguments, Forey called the Church of Scientology "an
essentially commercial enterprise," which offered members "the illusory
promise of revival" in their lives.

"I ask you to consider dissolution," Forey said.

While France has long had a contentious relationship with the Church, the
trial marked the first time the organization itself was being taken to
court. Several of the group's leaders in France have faced separate legal
battles.

Forey also requested a 12,000-euro (dlrs 10,400) fine and a 12-month
suspended prison sentence for Marc Walter, the 61-year-old president of
the Ile de France section that includes Paris.

A verdict was expected on May 17.

Civil parties to the government's case, including the National Union of
Associations for the Defense of Families and Individuals, support the call
for the Paris branch to be dissolved.

Church of Scientology members have likened the trial to a witch hunt and
say their faith is a religion like any other.

"This is a setup -- the government is trying to destroy a religion," said
Marc Bromberg, a Church of Scientology official. "We are in an environment
in France that's against religion and spirituality."

The Church of Scientology has sought recognition as a religion in Europe,
but many Europeans are skeptical. In France, it figures on a list of
nearly 200 groups to be tracked to prevent cult activities.

France has been increasingly inhospitable to groups that it calls sects.
Last year it adopted a law that increases the country's judicial arsenal
against sects as part of a larger crackdown.

The law was a response to sects such as the Order of the Solar Temple, a
group that lost 58 members in mass suicides in Switzerland and Canada
between 1994 and 1997.

The Church of Scientology, which counts actors Tom Cruise and John
Travolta among its members, was founded in 1954 by science-fiction writer
L. Ron Hubbard. It teaches that technology can expand the mind and help
solve problems.

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