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FECRIS and affiliates: Defamation is in their DNA

Defamation cases condemned by European courts in Austria, France, Germany, and Spain

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (08.07.2021) – CAP-LC (Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience), an NGO with special consultative status at the United Nations’ ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council), has filed a written statement to the 47th Session of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council published on 21 June 2021 which denounces the defamation policy, the incitement to stigmatization and hatred towards certain religious and belief groups by FECRIS (European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects) and its member associations. 

This umbrella organization based in France and mainly financed by French public powers (over 90% of its budget) was created in Paris on 30 June 1994 on request of the French anti-cult association UNADFI.

 

Instead of publishing objective information about religious and belief groups they derogatorily label as “cults” (in French, sectes), FECRIS and its affiliates are used to spreading distorted or fake news and defamation. However, it has still kept its ECOSOC status since 2005 despite the fact that courts in a number of EU countries have condemned several of their disparaging statements. See hereafter a non-exhaustive list of cases that were taken to court in languages that were accessible to the author but it is just the tip of the iceberg of their defamatory statements that were never prosecuted.

Austria

In the dock in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004 and 2005: Former vice-president of FECRIS

 

F.G., the third president of FECRIS (2005-2009) and board member of Austrian FECRIS’ affiliate GSK (Gesellschaft gegen Sekten und Kultgefahren) has been convicted a number of times for defamation against the Brunstad Christian Church (known in Austria as “the Norwegian church” or “Smith’s Friends”) in 1996, 1997, 1998 (twice), 2000 (twice), 2004 and 2005. This unrepentant recidivist was repeatedly condemned to pay fines, to refrain from attacking that Church, to remove defamatory accusations from GSK’s website and also to publish court decisions in his disadvantage.

 

F.G., a retired engineer, is a committed Catholic. He disagreed with his daughter W.G. joining the Smith’s Friends and getting married with one of its members. On 27 May 1999, she registered a testimony at a notary in which she denied the allegations of her father against this movement.

Source: Freedom of Religion or Belief Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality, A Case Study: FECRIS, pp 324-327 and Kurzinformation über die Gerichtsprozesse der Norweger Bewegung.

 

France

In the dock in 1997: President of ADFI Nord, FECRIS affiliate

On 15 January 1997, the Douai Court of Appeal convicted the president of ADFI Nord for defamation regarding the Association of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in France. She was condemned to pay the symbolic amount of 1 FF.  (Cour d’Appel de Douai, 4e Chambre – Dossier Nr 96/02832 – Arrêt 15.01.1997).

In the Dock in 2001: President of UNADFI, FECRIS affiliate

In a case of defamation against a member of the Church of Scientology, the President of UNADFI was condemned to pay a fine of 762,24 EUR and additionally 1524,49 EUR as financial compensation for moral damage to the victim. (Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, 17e Chambre – Dossier Nr 0014523016 – Jugement 20.11.2001)

On 5 February 2003, the Paris Court of Appeal confirmed this judgment.  (Cour d’appel de Paris, 11e chambre/Section A – Dossier Nr 01/03757 – Arrêt 05.02.2003)

In the dock in 2002: Vice-president of GEMPPI, FECRIS affiliate

On 29 March 2002, the Regional Court of Marseille (TGI) found defamatory the statements regarding the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses that were made by J.C. during a conference he held in Marseille. He accused the association of Jehovah’s Witnesses of fraud, illegally employing unregistered staff for years, and using a hare-brained translation of the Bible. These statements were reproduced in La Provence of 28 January 2001 and were not denied by J.C.

 

The Court found J.C. guilty of the offence of libel towards the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses for the following statement “There is a fraud involving the employment of individuals who are not registered with the URSSAF which has been going on for years.”

 

He was ordered to pay a fine of 450 EUR as punishment, the symbolic sum of 1 EUR to the Association and the amount of 600 EUR under section 475 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

 

It is noteworthy that J.C. was the vice-president of GEMPPI, president of ADFI and member of MIVILUDES’ orientation council. He is a Professor at the French Institute of Muslim Civilization in Lyon. He was also the regional head of the Institute for the training of teachers of religion in Dijon.

 

(Tribunal de Grande Instance de Marseille, 8e chambre – Dossier Nr 2972/02 – Jugement correctionnel 29.03.2002)English translation

 

In the dock in 2007: Former MP and President of UNADFI, FECRIS affiliate

On 18 July 2007, the Court of Appeal of Rouen condemned C.P., accused of repeated defamation in the media, to the payment of 1500 EUR (+ 800 EUR for the implementation of Article 475-1 of the Criminal Procedure Code) to the central association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France and 750 EUR (+300 EUR for the implementation of Article 475-1 of the Criminal Procedure Code) to each of the seven local associations of Jehovah’s Witnesses as financial compensation for moral damage. (Cour d’appel de Rouen, chambre correctionnelle – Dossier Nr 07/00341 – Arrêt 18.07.2007)

In the dock in 2007: President of UNADFI, FECRIS affiliate

 

On 3 April 2007, the Court of Cassation found defamatory the statements which were made by C.P., former member of Parliament and president of UNADFI, and by A.F., member of the MILS (the predecessor of MIVILUDES) in their book “Sects, Democracy and Globalization” (Sectes, démocratie et mondialisation) published in 2002. In that book, the philosophical movement AMORC (Rosicrucian Order) was accused, among other things, of pursuing personal interests, of supporting racist theories and threatening freedoms, of being structured like a mafia and of functioning like a criminal organization.

In its decision, the Court of Cassation quashed and nullified the decision of the Court of Appeal of Paris 22 March 2006. The case was sent back to the Court of Appeal but the authors of the book concluded a deal with AMORC. On 7 May 2008, they signed a declaration by which they recognized that their statements about AMORC had been defamatory as the Court of Cassation had ruled. They concluded by saying that in the light of new information gathered since the publication of their book they had agreed AMORC was not a cult-like organization. (Cour de Cassation, chambre civile 1 – Pourvoi Nr 06-15226 – Cour decision: 03.04.2007)

 

In the dock in 2015 and 2017: UNADFI, FECRIS affiliate

 

In November 2015, UNADFI was convicted by the Court of Appeal of Paris for ‘abuse of legal process,’ for having persisted in bad faith as a plaintiff against the Church of Scientology and two private persons. UNADFI had to pay 3,000 EUR to each of the parties and 4,000 EUR on the basis of article 700 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. (Cour d’appel de Paris, Pôle 2, Chambre 2, – Dossier Nr 14/09557 – Arrêt 20.11.2015)

 

This conviction was upheld by the Court of Cassation on 12 January 2017. (Cour de Cassation, 2e chambre civile – Dossier Nr 10019 F – Arrêt 12.01.2017)

 

Germany

In the dock in 2001: AGPF/ SEKTEN-INFO ESSEN, FECRIS affiliates

In a final judgment issued on 19 December 2001 by the Munich State Court, Ms. H-M C. founder of Sect-info Essen, was ordered to stop repeating or spreading a wide variety of untruths about Takar Singh (an Eastern religious group) or else she would be fined up to 500,000 DM and, if not paid, be sentenced to jail for up to 6 months. These included allegations such as accusing a person of being a criminal, of torturing children or of rape. The sale of the book they were distributing about the group was also forbidden. The title was “The new prophets” (German: Die Neuen Heilsbringer: Auswege oder Wege ins Aus?) (Munich I Landgericht/ Land Court, civil chamber 9 – Case Nr. Az: 908736/99 – Entscheidung/ Court decision: 19.01.2001)

Source: Freedom of Religion or Belief Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality, A Case Study: FECRIS, pp 191-192

 

In the dock in 2020: FECRIS

On 27 November 2020, the District Court of Hamburg condemned FECRIS for defaming the general movement of Jehovah’s Witnesses in public statements made in the framework of its conferences from 2009 to 2017 that were posted later on its website. See Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany v. FECRIS (File ref. 324 O 434/18) about a long list of 32 claimed defamatory statements: 17 were fully justified and one was partially justified by the Court.

Since the Jehovah’s Witnesses had claimed that 32 FECRIS statements were defamatory, and the court found 17 of them defamatory, one partially defamatory, and 14 non-defamatory, FECRIS declared that it had “won” the case on 14 points. While keeping silent about the 17 other points declared defamatory by the court, FECRIS gave the false impression in a press release that the Court of Hamburg had validated the 14 statements it had considered non-defamatory as true. This late press release (30 May 2021) was just a reaction to a report about FECRIS’ condemnation published by Bitter Winter. (Hamburg Landgericht/ Land Court – File Ref. 324 O 434/18 – Entscheidung/ Court decision: 27.11.2020)

 

More about this case in Germany in HRWF’s database of news.

 

 

Spain

In the dock in 1999 (European Court): Pro Juventud, FECRIS affiliate

Pro Juventud, now AIS – Pro Juventud, a Spanish FECRIS affiliate, has been found by the European Court of Human Rights in the 1999 case Ribera Blume and others versus Spain to bear “direct and immediate responsibility” in a case of kidnapping, imprisonment and deprogramming attempt of members of a religious group in conditions of illegal deprivation of freedom and detention. Forced change of religion is forbidden by international law. (European Court of Human Rights – File 37680/97 – Court decision: 14.10.1999)

 

Conclusions

During more than 25 years, FECRIS and its affiliates have been spreading defamatory statements about religious and belief groups in printed form, in the media and in parliamentary hearings. Before joining FECRIS, a number of associations and their leaders had already been condemned in defamation cases by courts in Sweden, Switzerland and other countries (Freedom of Religion or Belief Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality, A Case Study: FECRIS, page 192)

The examples of court decisions listed in this article show that it is in their DNA to stigmatize religious or belief groups that their founding members and board members do not like for personal reasons or through personal experience. Such obstinacy in defaming and stigmatizing a number of non-mainline groups in the media has negatively and sometimes dramatically impacted the lives of those who have freely chosen to follow their teachings but this is part of their right to freedom of conscience, thought and belief.

If similar defamatory statements targeted atheist organizations or the faith of Jews or Muslims with the same virulence, this would trigger an outcry in the political class and the media, and rightly so. The followers of non-mainline religious groups just want to enjoy the same right to freedom of conscience, thought and belief.

FECRIS and its affiliates have not only been condemned by courts. Their unethical practices have been repeatedly condemned at the OSCE and in 2020 by USCIRF (US Commission on International Religious Freedom).

It is time for public powers to stop financing FECRIS and its affiliates, to keep them at distance and to rely on credible academic sources and experts.

Further reading about FORB in EU on HRWF website

 

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