Le Soir (24.06.2022) – https://bit.ly/3y84MS6 – In 2018, several media outlets published articles claiming that Jehovah’s Witnesses were hiding sexual abuse of minors within their own community.
These articles were based on a report by CIAOSN, the Centre for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organisations. The religious organisation was angry with the centre, which it accused of damaging the reputation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and took the matter to court.
The Brussels court of first instance has just ruled in its favour. It states that “the CIAOSN committed a fault by 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 judgement also condemns the Belgian State to publish the judgement on the homepage of the CIAOSN website for six months. No compensation is awarded to the organisation as no damage could be proven. Frédéric Delepierre
Original version in French: https://bit.ly/3y84MS6)
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 Le Soir and the journalist for their professional integrity. As of 30 June, no other newspaper and media outlet in Belgium had published anything about the court decision acquitting the movement of Jehovah’s Witnesses of covering up sexual abuse charges.
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.
Would the Belgian media outlets have kept silent if a Catholic institution, a Jewish organization or a Muslim community had been acquitted of serious crimes after a court would have ruled that the charges, largely publicized in the media, were unfounded?
Photo: Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgium – Credit: HRWF