The Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence. Credits.
FRANCE: FECRIS tries twice to escape a court procedure—in vain
In two successive rulings, FECRIS’ maneuvers were defeated, and it was ordered to pay 1500 EUR and 2500 EUR as financial compensation.
by Willy Fautré
Bitter Winter (19.12.2023) – On 12 December 2023, the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence confirmed a previous judgment forcing the international anti-cult organization FECRIS based in France to defend itself against a request of dissolution filed by a French association.
Why a request of dissolution?
In a bailiff’s deed dated 10 September 2022, CAP-LC (Coordination of associations and individuals for freedom of conscience), which defends freedom of religion or belief throughout the world, summoned FECRIS (European Federation of Research and Information Centres on Sectarianism) to appear before the Marseilles Magistrates’ Court, seeking to have the organization dissolved for what it claimed are its illegal activities.
CAP-LC points out that it was founded to defend peaceful religious minorities and new religions, which FECRIS has repeatedly stigmatized for numerous years as dangerous and harmful “cults.”
Its request for dissolution is based on FECRIS’ dissemination of discriminatory and defamatory statements in 2006, 2009 and at conferences in 2015 and 2016 against a number of law-abiding minority religious and belief movements. It is also based on a conference about “education and cults” on 2 June 2018, another one about “cultic deviances and social networks” on 17 May 2019, and a last one on 25 September 2021 on the theme “Covid-19 revealing changes in the cultic phenomenon.”
It maintains that the associations belonging to FECRIS and their members in France as well as in other European countries are trivializing a pseudo-legal-scientific discourse aimed at accusing many new religious movements of “cultic deviances.” This term has been specifically coined by the French authorities to avoid the very negatively connotated term “secte” (“cult” in English). Indeed, a number of courts, including the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, have declared that the use of “cult” (secte) is discriminatory and should be avoided in governmental statements and documents.
Last but not least, CAP-LC contends that FECRIS’ member association in Russia is the voice of a radical fringe of the Orthodox Church headed by Patriarch Kirill and closely linked to the Kremlin, as it could be seen right from the beginning of the war in Ukraine.
Aggravating circumstance, Alexander Dvorkin who is an Orthodox figure in Russia well-known for his hate-fueling speeches against religious movements such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelical and Protestant Churches, Hare Krishna devotees and Scientologists, was a member of the board of directors until 2023 and even the vice-president of FECRIS until 2021.
FECRIS was thus contributing to the religious hegemony of the Orthodox Church and the discrimination against religious and spiritual minorities in Russia, which has led to the ban of the peaceful movement of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017. There are currently over 120 Jehovah’s Witnesses behind bars in Russia, Alexey Gerasimov being the last one to be sentenced to six years in prison on 7 December for holding some discussion groups about the Bible in private homes.
CAP-LC also denounces the misuse of public subsidies received by FECRIS from the French Prime Minister for a conference planned to be organized in-person in 2020 but which was held remotely and whose funds were used to pay for court cases FECRIS lost.
Each of the accusations of CAP-LC was supported by concrete evidence, twenty-seven documents in all.
About the decision of the Judicial Court in Marseille
The case was pleaded on 27 March 2023 FECRIS’ lawyers did not want to debate the merit of the case before a French judge. They counter-attacked, contesting the “interest in acting” of CAP-LC, and arguing that the action in dissolution was time-barred. The decision of the Judicial Court of Marseille fell on 15 May 2023.
It rejected FECRIS’ arguments that CAP-LC had no legal interest in bringing the action and that it was time-barred. It condemned FECRIS, ordered it to pay EUR 1,500 to CAP-LC and to cover the costs of the proceedings.
In his ruling, the judged wrote “Through the summons, CAP LC denounces facts imputed to FECRIS likely to undermine its corporate purpose insofar as they would harm freedom of conscience and religious freedom. In support of its claims, it has submitted documents issued by FECRIS members or reproducing statements allegedly made at FECRIS conferences. It will be up to the trial judge to rule on the proof of these facts and their influence on the validity of the association’s purpose. If they were accepted as true, they would be such as to undermine the plaintiff’s purpose. It follows that, at the admissibility stage, CAP-LC has a legitimate interest in bringing the action.”
About the decision of the Court of Appeal in Aix-en-Provence
On 12 December 2023, the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence confirmed the first decision.
The ruling states: “It thus appears that the corporate purpose of CAP-LC, which aims at the general promotion of freedom of conscience, religion or belief, within the framework of the defense of collective interests, is likely to be affected by the activities of FECRIS, and that it therefore justifies a legitimate and current interest in acting to demand the dissolution of this association.”
The court condemned again FECRIS, ordered it to pay EUR 2,500 to CAP-LC this time and to cover the costs of the proceedings.
It must be recalled that FECRIS was convicted for 18 counts of defamation against Jehovah’s Witnesses by a German court in 2020. Moreover, there were numerous court decisions in France from 1997 to 2015 against member associations of FECRIS, in particular UNADFI and GEMPPI. Anti-cultists seem to operate a cottage industry of hate speech.
The Judicial Court of Marseille. Credits.