ARGENTINA: Buenos Aires Yoga School wins again in Court, “The New York Times” ignores it

One day after BAYS scored another court victory, “The New York Times” republished the old falsehoods about the “sex cult.” Why?

by Massimo Introvigne and María Vardé


Bitter Winter (10.06.2024) – One of us (Introvigne) is the editor of a small online daily magazine, although quoted by some U.S. Department of State reports more often than “The New York Times” when it comes to coverage of religious liberty issues in China. He knows that articles are written in advance of their publication. Incidents can occur. One hit, precisely, “The New York Times” on June 8.

With great fanfare, it ran a sensationalist attack against the Buenos Aires Yoga School (BAYS) entitled “It Called Itself a Yoga School. Prosecutors Say It Was a Sex Cult.” Most unfortunately for the “Times,” the article was published just a few hours after Argentinian media announced that the Court of Cassation had confirmed the December 7, 2023, decision of the National Court of Appeals for Criminal and Correctional Matters that annulled the elevation to trial of the defendants, confirming that relevant evidence in their favor was ignored, including opinions by forensic experts. As Argentinian media noted, this is not the end of the case, since it returns to the judge of first instance, but is clearly a setback for the prosecutors. As one Argentinian journalist wisely commented, “In fact, despite the spectacular media coverage of the investigation, today no one is detained and the investigation is virtually paralyzed.”

We do not believe that “The New York Times” article was the devious way of the prosecutors to react to the last judicial defeats. That it was a mere incident is more believable.

However, “The New York Times” is not totally innocent either. It parrots the basic argument of the prosecutors, that “the organization exploited and drugged some of its female members, forcing them to sell their bodies.” But it fails to inform its readers that all the female members the prosecutors believe are “victims” and “prostitutes”—who are not young and marginal women but middle-aged professionals with jobs in fields ranging from real estate to music and design—vigorously deny being victims and having ever worked as prostitutes in their lives. The prosecutors’ argument is that they say so because they are under “brainwashing”—a discredited pseudo-scientific theory used by those hostile to “cults”—but the main reason the elevation to trial has been annulled is that it ignored the opinion by independent experts, including those of the Forensic Medical Corps of the Supreme Court, who examined the women and concluded that they are psychologically normal and believable. Faced with the fact that their denials were ignored by the prosecutors and the examining magistrate, the so-called “victims” organized themselves to intervene in the judicial file through a legal representative. This is new in Argentina, where the law provides that the alleged victim of human trafficking can only intervene as a plaintiff.

We are very curious of knowing what kind of fact-checking “The New York Times” performed on the sentence in the article, “During the investigation, some former members talked of being forced to work as ‘slaves’ and said the school promoted prostitution.” This statement is false, as the documents of the case clearly demonstrate. The only “former member” who testified against BAYS and made these accusations is anti-cultist Pablo Salum, which attended the activities of BAYS for a short time as a teenager decades ago. In fact, his complaint is a copy of another one he made in 1996, five years after leaving the institution, which was evaluated and dismissed in a previous case. The copy is so obvious that it involved as current “perpetrators” people who had died many years ago. All the other witnesses who were or are members of BAYS declared that slavery and prostitution only exist as figments of Salum’s wild imagination.

The accusation said that BAYS produced “thousands of sex videos” to extort money from people of power. They turned out to be only philosophy classes and magic shows by world champion stage magician and BAYS student Carlos Barragán.

It said that the students’ companies “laundered money” for EYBA’s leaders, but not a single accounting audit has yet been carried out to prove this, despite the defendants’ insistent requests for them. It was also said that the leader manipulated his students to give him all their property through the real estate company of a BAYS member. However, he only has two properties, both bought from people outside the school and before the real estate company existed: one in 1976 and the other in 1990. The women deny having been victims of any crime and their psychological examinations were excellent. So far, the only “proof” the prosecution has is the word of an anti-cult activist who considers religious groups such as the Buddhists or the Discalced Carmelite nuns to be “cults.”

The most interesting question is who is behind “The New York Times” article. Certainly media have a general bias against groups stigmatized as “cults,” from which “The New York Times” is not immune. However, in this case there may be something more, which cannot be reduced to a juicy, if false, story spread by Argentinian prosecutors.

In fact, there is an international lobby of so-called anti-human trafficking agencies, not less powerful in the United States than in Argentina, which tries to reintroduce from the window “brainwashing” theories academics and courts of law had expelled from the door in the past century. It is argued that, just as prostitutes who are human trafficking victims are not credible when they deny being victims because they are terrorized by organized crime, so “cult victims” who deny being victims should not be believed because they are “brainwashed” by the “cults.” Forensic experts in Argentina have already disposed of this bizarre theory. But it is a serious threat to religious liberty, which calls to vigilance everywhere.

Stage magician Carlos Barragán and psychologist and BAYS student Horacio Vesce (also part of Barragán’s s magic team) presenting to the media the First Prize in Stage Magic won at the World Championship in Dresden, Germany, 1997, after arriving to Argentina.

Further reading about FORB in Argentina on HRWF website