French Assembly to adopt controversial anti-sect lawMay 30, 2001
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France's National Assembly adopted a new law against sects Wednesday,
ignoring criticism from churches and human rights groups that it
represents an assault on basic liberties.
Officially entitled "the law to reinforce the prevention and repression of
groups of a sect-like character," it makes it an offence to abuse a
vulnerable person via the "exertion of heavy or repeated pressure or
techniques liable to alter his judgement.
It will also allow courts to close down associations after members have
been convicted of crimes such as personal violence, illegal use of
medicines or misleading publicity.
The Church of Scientology, one of 172 groups officially designated as
"sects" in France, spearheaded a campaign against the bill, warning of the
arbitrary powers it will give to judges to suppress beliefs and behaviour
that run against the mainstream.
"This law will allow the judicial authorities to dissolve any religion,
any spiritual or other group labelled 'sect-like,'" wrote church-member
Daniele Gounord in a special edition of its newspaper Ethics and Liberty.
The United States has expressed concern about the bill's "dangerously
ambiguous" language, and 50 members of the Council of Europe's
parliamentary assembly called for its suspension until the completion of a
report on religious rights in France.
The heads of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in France have
also written to Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin voicing their
"reservations" about the law, which could "damage fundamental liberties."
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