The court of first instance in Brussels has ruled in favour of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a sexual abuse case, La Libre Belgique says
The court of first instance in Brussels rules in favour of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a sexual abuse case. The Centre for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organisations has been condemned by the court.
La Libre Belgique (28.07.2022) – https://bit.ly/3OGOvKn – On 20 October 2018, La Libre mentioned a report that the Centre for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organisations, CIAOSN, had asked the House (the federal parliament) to investigate sexual abuse of minors committed within the Jehovah’s Witness community.
The CIAOSN – an independent centre under the FPS Justice – had received various testimonies from people claiming to have been sexually abused, leading to a series of searches of Jehovah’s Witness churches and homes.
These accusations of sexual violence were strongly contested by the religious community. The Jehovah’s Witnesses felt that this was prejudicial to them and their reputation and took the case to court.
La Libre learns that on 16 June 2022, the Court of First Instance in Brussels ruled in favour of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and condemned the CIAOSN.
“Particularly vile rumours”
The judgement states that the CIAOSN “committed a fault in drafting and distributing the report entitled ‘Reporting on the treatment of sexual abuse of minors within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation’ and the recommendation ‘concerning transparency within religious and philosophical groups and the protection of minors against sexual abuse in particular'”.
The Brussels Court of First Instance also ordered the Belgian State to publish the judgement on the CIAOSN homepage for six months.
The court decision was welcomed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had denounced a “particularly vile rumour” targeting their community of some 45,000 members and supporters. However, no compensation was awarded to the organisation as no damage could be proven.
Original version in French: https://bit.ly/3OGOvKn
Media stigmatization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgium
HRWF (30.06.2022) – On Thursday 20 December 2018 at 6.30am, Belga press agency published a breaking news which immediately inflamed all the media: “Sexual abuse on minors among Jehovah’s Witnesses? The Information Center on Cults requests an inquiry”. Very soon, as it could be expected, the question mark disappeared from the title in the media online:
Twenty-four minutes later, La Libre Belgique and La Dernière Heure titled “Sexual abuse on minors among Jehovah’s Witnesses: An inquiry is necessary”.
At 1.35pm, Le Soir, another leading newspaper, made one more step, titling “How Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgium silence sexual abuse on minors inside their community.”
On the same evening, the Belgian francophone TV channel RTBF announced in its 7.30pm TV News that the CIAOSN was asking the House of Representatives to establish an inquiry commission about possible sexual abuses ‘among’ Jehovah’s Witnesses. In addition, the RTBF posted on its website an article titled “Sexual abuse on minors among Jehovah’s Witnesses? The Information Center on Cults demands an inquiry.” The RTBF TV news was followed by an interview of two former Jehovah’s Witnesses. The RTBF also gave the floor to a spokesperson of Jehovah’s Witnesses and was the only media to do it. He explained the internal procedure in force in cases of sexual abuse: to take all necessary measures so that the authorities are informed and to protect the children.
The RTBF finally justified its report by concluding that “in the Netherlands, in eight months’ time, the authorities had collected 286 testimonies of sexual abuse; this country has about 25,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, a number close to the one in Belgium.”
By the end of the day, public opinion and political decision-makers in Belgium were unavoidably convinced that sexual abuse on minors had been practiced for a long time and in total impunity inside the Belgian movement of Jehovah’s Witnesses because their community leaders were illegally hiding such facts. Moreover, the CIAOSN appeared to be a necessary vigilance mechanism for the protection of children against Jehovah’s Witnesses and on its website, it published a call for collecting testimonies of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been victims of sexual abuse.
On 30 June 2022, a spokesperson of the Belgian association of Jehovah’s Witnesses told Human Rights Without Frontiers that they sent a press release to Le Soir, La Dernière Heure, RTBF, RTL La Libre Belgique and ten more francophone media outlets but only Le Soir had publicly its readers about the acquittal of all the charges.
Human Rights Without Frontiers congratulates La Libre and the journalist for their professional integrity, although a reminder and a six-month waiting period were needed to publish the judicial truth. Belga, Le Soir, Le Vif, RTBF (Radio et Télévision Belge Francophone) and VRT (Vlaamse Radio en Televisie) have in the meantime published an update of the court case.
Four years after the publicized unfounded charges, most Belgian citizens will unfortunately go on believing that there were institutional cases of sexual abuse in Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations and that the association of Jehovah’s Witnesses was covering up such facts. The Belgian court said these accusations were unfounded.
Photo : AFP