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GERMANY: FECRIS secretly admits it lost Hamburg Case against Jehovah’s Witnesses

FECRIS admits: Hamburg Case lost against Jehovah’s Witnesses was “a lesson”

While in a public press release the lost case was presented as a victory, in its General Assembly the organization acknowledged things went differently.

by Massimo Introvigne

Bitter Winter (13.09.2021) – Excerpt from FECRIS’ report at their 2020 General Assembly:

2.1. Le procès Témoins de JEHOVAH/ FECRIS = énorme travail, heureusement assisté de Jean-Pierre JOUGLA.

Objet du litige: Le site de la FECRIS a publié au cours des années, des interventions comportant des points concernant les Témoins de Jéhovah (TJ).

La Fédération allemande des TJ a attaqué la FECRIS pour propos diffamatoires.

Les dernières conclusions ont été remises le 23 octobre 2020.

Le jugement final a été rendu en Allemand, le 27 novembre 2020; la décision et ses motifs sont en cours de traduction.

 

Précision de JP. Jougla: “Ce procès doit nous servir de leçon. Les intervenants doivent pouvoir apporter la preuve de ce qu’ils avant”.

 

Conclusion: à l’avenir les textes écrits ne seront pas publiés sur le site de la Fédération (précaution/sécurité)

(Source: Item 2.1 of the report of FECRIS General Assembly of 11/27/2000).

 

On November 27, 2020, FECRIS, the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects, an umbrella organization for anti-cult movements in Europe and beyond, significantly funded by the French government, lost a landmark case at the District Court of Hamburg, in Germany, where it was found guilty of 18 counts of untrue factual allegations against the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On May 24, 2021, Bitter Winter published a commentary of the decision.

On May 30, 2021, i.e., six days after Bitter Winter’s article (and six months after the decision, proving that it was indeed answering Bitter Winter, and without our article it would never have commented the judgement in public), FECRIS published a press release about the case.

In the press release, FECRIS falsely claimed that it had won a case that it had in fact lost. 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 claimed that it had successfully defended its case in Hamburg. Obviously, it had not, as evidenced by the fact that FECRIS was sentenced to pay some money to the Jehovah’s Witnesses rather than vice versa. FECRIS claimed that the 14 statements declared non-defamatory were “essential” and the 18 points for which they were sentenced were “ancillary.” This was totally arbitrary. As evidenced in our article, the statements found defamatory by the court concerned some of the main claims  of FECRIS’ usual campaigns against the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Lawyers know that defamation cases are difficult. Not all false statements constitute defamation. Some statements may be inaccurate, yet the courts may regard them as protected by free speech and falling outside the scope of statutes against defamation. Organizations and tabloids that resort to systematic defamation know that they will be often sued, about several statements, and that they will be sentenced for some and found not guilty for others. Their strategy is normally to downplay the negative decisions and claim victory when only some of the statements for which they were sued, but not all, are found defamatory (a common occurrence even in the most successful defamation cases). They would also falsely claim that, when their statements have been found as non-defamatory, the courts have “certified” that they are “true”—while in fact a statement may be both inaccurate and outside the scope of defamation.

Typically, FECRIS’ press release gave the false impression that the Court of Hamburg had validated the 14 statements it had considered non-defamatory as true. In fact, the Court itself had warned against such an interpretation, noting that in German law “expressions of opinion enjoy extensive protection. Accordingly, inaccurate opinions also share in the scope of protection.” One clear example of an “inaccurate opinion” regarded as non-defamatory, which FECRIS mentions in its statement as if it had been confirmed as true by the Hamburg judges, is that “all claims of persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are just primitive propaganda.” We even wonder whether FECRIS really believes this statement to be true, after the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has been repeatedly denounced by the United Nations, the European Union, and several Western governments, including the German one.

We have now evidence that, while publicly claiming “victory” in the Hamburg case, FECRIS is well aware that things went otherwise. On November 28, 2020, FECRIS’ General Assembly was held by videoconference. One of the items discussed was the Hamburg case. The Assembly was informed of the “enormous work, happily helped by Jean-Pierre Jougla.” According to his Linkedin profile, Jougla is a “honorary attorney” (avocat honoraire), a peculiar French (and Belgian) position indicating somebody, normally retired, who maintains the title of attorney and some of its functions, but can no longer act as an attorney in court cases, except in special circumstances.

Jougla commented that “this case should be a lesson for us. Contributors should be able to prove what they assert.” The Assembly concluded that for reasons of “precaution and security” “in the future the written texts [of the speeches given at FECRIS conferences] will no longer be published on the web site of the Federation.”

See the full article here

P.S. The court decision is available in German and in English on HRWF website.

Photo : Jehovah’s Witnesses evangelizing in Frankfurt, Germany. Source: jw.org.

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.

Further reading about FORB in Germany on HRWF website





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EUROPE: The anti-cult ideology and FECRIS: A White Paper

The anti-cult ideology and FECRIS: Dangers for religious freedom. A White Paper

Six scholars look at the European anti-cult federation, and conclude it is seriously dangerous for religious liberty

By Luigi Berzano (University of Torino, Italy), Boris Falikov (Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow, Russia), Willy Fautré (Human Rights Without Frontiers, Brussels, Belgium), Liudmyla Filipovich (Department of Religious Studies, Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences, Kiev, Ukraine), Massimo Introvigne (Center for Studies on New Religions, Torino, Italy), and Bernadette Rigal-Cellard (University Bordeaux-Montaigne, Bordeaux, France)

Bitter Winter (23.08.2021) – https://bit.ly/3sLauGv – In 2020, the USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom), a bipartisan commission of the U.S. federal government, identified the anti-cult ideology as a major threat to international religious liberty (USCIRF 2020).

The anti-cult ideology, or anti-cultism, is based on the idea that “religions” and “cults” are different. “Cults,” it claims, are not religions, although they may falsely claim to be religious. While religions are joined freely, “victims” join “cults” because of the latter’s coercive practices.

Read the White Paper on Bitter Winter

Table of contents

The anti-cult ideology

The case of FECRIS

  1. FECRIS systematically spread the anti-cult ideology about “cults” and brainwashing, a pseudo-scientific theory

 

  1. FECRIS spread false information

 

  1. FECRIS supports totalitarian regimes

 

  1. FECRIS has been involved in violence

 

  1. FECRIS actively promotes a gatekeeping strategy against the most senior scholars of new religious movements, labeled “cult apologists.”

Photo : Controversial FECRIS Vice President Alexander Dvorkin – commons.wikimedia.org

Further reading about FORB in Europe on HRWF website





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EUROPE: FECRIS et ses associations membres: la diffamation est dans leur ADN

FECRIS et ses associations membres: la diffamation est dans leur ADN

Affaires de diffamation condamnées par des tribunaux européens en Autriche, en France, en Allemagne et en Espagne

Par Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF)

HRWF (08.07.2021) – CAP-LC (Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience), ONG dotée du statut consultatif spécial auprès de l’ECOSOC (Conseil Economique et Social) des Nations Unies, a déposé une déclaration écrite à la 47e session du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies, publiée le 21 juin 2021, qui dénonce la politique de diffamation, d’incitation à la stigmatisation et à la haine de la FECRIS (Fédération Européenne des Centres de Recherche et d’Information sur le Sectarisme) et de ses associations membres envers certains groupes religieux et convictionnels.

Cette organisation basée en France et principalement financée par les pouvoirs publics français (plus de 90% de son budget) a été créée à Paris le 30 juin 1994 à la demande de l’association française anti-sectes UNADFI.

Au lieu de publier des informations objectives sur les groupes religieux et de conviction qu’elle qualifie péjorativement de « sectes », la FECRIS et les organisations affiliées ont l’habitude de diffuser des informations déformées ou fausses et de faire de la diffamation. Cependant, elle conserve son statut ECOSOC depuis 2005 malgré le fait que les tribunaux de certains pays de l’Union Européenne aient condamné plusieurs de ses déclarations désobligeantes. Voir ci-après une liste non exhaustive d’affaires qui ont été portées devant les tribunaux dans des langues accessibles à l’auteur, mais ce n’est que la partie émergée de l’iceberg de leurs déclarations diffamatoires qui n’ont jamais été poursuivies en justice.

 

Autriche

Sur le banc des accusés en 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004 et 2005 : Ancien vice-président de la FECRIS

F.G., troisième président de la FECRIS (2005-2009) et membre du conseil d’administration de GSK (Gesellschaft gegen Sekten und Kultgefahren), une organisation autrichienne affiliée à la FECRIS, a été condamné à plusieurs reprises pour diffamation à l’encontre de l’Église chrétienne de Brunstad (connue en Autriche sous le nom d’« Église norvégienne » ou des « Amis de Smith ») en 1996, 1997, 1998 (deux fois), 2000 (deux fois), 2004 et 2005. Ce récidiviste impénitent a été condamné à plusieurs reprises à payer des amendes, à s’abstenir d’attaquer cette Église, à retirer les accusations diffamatoires du site Internet de GSK et aussi à publier les décisions de justice en sa défaveur.

F.G., ingénieur à la retraite, est un catholique convaincu. Il n’était pas d’accord que sa fille W.G. rejoigne les Amis de Smith et se marie avec l’un de ses membres. Le 27 mai 1999, elle a enregistré un témoignage chez un notaire dans lequel elle a démenti les allégations de son père contre ce mouvement.

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

 

France

Sur le banc des accusés en 1997 : Président de l’ADFI Nord, affiliée à la FECRIS

Le 15 janvier 1997, la Cour d’appel de Douai a condamné la présidente de l’ADFI Nord pour diffamation envers l’Association des Témoins de Jéhovah de France. Elle a été condamnée à payer la somme symbolique de 1 FF.  (Cour d’Appel de Douai, 4e Chambre – Dossier Nr 96/02832 – Arrêt 15.01.1997).

Sur le banc des accusés en 2001 : Président de l’UNADFI, affiliée à la FECRIS

Dans une affaire de diffamation à l’encontre d’un membre de l’Eglise de Scientologie, la Présidente de l’UNADFI a été condamnée à payer une amende de 762,24 EUR et, en plus, de 1524,49 EUR à la victime en réparation du préjudice moral. (Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, 17e Chambre – Dossier Nr 0014523016 – Jugement 20.11.2001)

Le 5 février 2003, la Cour d’appel de Paris a confirmé ce jugement.  (Cour d’appel de Paris, 11e chambre/Section A – Dossier Nr 01/03757 – Arrêt 05.02.2003)

Sur le banc des accusés en 2002 : Vice-président du GEMPPI, affilié à la FECRIS

Le 29 mars 2002, le Tribunal de Grande Instance de Marseille (TGI) a jugé diffamatoires les propos concernant l’association des Témoins de Jéhovah tenus par J.C. lors d’une conférence qu’il a tenue à Marseille. Il a accusé l’association des Témoins de Jéhovah d’escroquerie, d’avoir employé illégalement du personnel non déclaré pendant des années et d’avoir utilisé une traduction farfelue de la Bible. Ces déclarations ont été reproduites dans La Provence du 28 janvier 2001 et n’ont pas été démenties par J.C.

Le tribunal a déclaré J.C. coupable du délit de diffamation envers l’association des Témoins de Jéhovah pour la déclaration suivante : « Il existe une fraude qui dure depuis des années concernant l’emploi de personnes non déclarées à l’URSSAF. »

Il a été condamné à payer une amende de 450 EUR à titre de sanction, la somme symbolique de 1 EUR à l’association et le montant de 600 EUR en vertu de l’article 475 (1) du Code de procédure pénale.

Il est à noter que J.C. a été vice-président du GEMPPI, président de l’ADFI et membre du conseil d’orientation de la MIVILUDES. Il est professeur à l’Institut français de civilisation musulmane à Lyon. Il a également été le responsable régional de l’Institut de formation des professeurs de religion de Dijon.

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

Sur le banc des accusés en 2007 : ancien député et président de l’UNADFI, affiliée à la FECRIS

Le 18 juillet 2007, la Cour d’appel de Rouen a condamné C.P., accusé de diffamation répétée dans les médias, à verser 1500 EUR (+ 800 EUR pour l’application de l’article 475-1 du Code de procédure pénale) à l’association centrale des Témoins de Jéhovah en France et 750 EUR (+ 300 EUR pour l’application de l’article 475-1 du Code de procédure pénale) à chacune des sept associations locales des Témoins de Jéhovah en réparation financière du préjudice moral. (Cour d’appel de Rouen, chambre correctionnelle – Dossier Nr 07/00341 – Arrêt 18.07.2007)

Sur le banc des accusés en 2007 : président de l’UNADFI, affiliée à la FECRIS

Le 3 avril 2007, la Cour de cassation a jugé diffamatoires les propos tenus par C.P., ancienne députée et présidente de l’UNADFI, et par A.F., membre de la MILS (prédécesseur de la MIVILUDES) dans leur ouvrage « Sectes, démocratie et mondialisation » publié en 2002. Dans cet ouvrage, le mouvement philosophique AMORC (Ordre rosicrucien) était accusé, entre autres, de poursuivre des intérêts personnels, de soutenir des théories racistes et de menacer les libertés, d’être structuré comme une mafia et de fonctionner comme une organisation criminelle.

Dans son arrêt, la Cour de cassation a cassé et annulé la décision de la Cour d’appel de Paris du 22 mars 2006. L’affaire a été renvoyée devant la Cour d’appel, mais les auteurs du livre ont conclu un accord avec l’AMORC. Le 7 mai 2008, ils ont signé une déclaration par laquelle ils reconnaissent que leurs propos sur l’AMORC avaient été diffamatoires comme l’avait jugé la Cour de cassation. Ils ont conclu en disant qu’à la lumière de nouvelles informations recueillies depuis la publication de leur livre, ils avaient convenu que l’AMORC n’était pas une organisation sectaire. (Cour de Cassation, chambre civile 1 – Pourvoi Nr 06-15226 – Décision de la Cour : 03.04.2007)

Sur le banc des accusés en 2015 et 2017 : L’UNADFI, affiliée à la FECRIS

En novembre 2015, l’UNADFI a été condamnée par la Cour d’appel de Paris pour « abus de procédure judiciaire », pour avoir persisté à se porter partie civile de mauvaise foi contre l’Église de Scientologie et deux particuliers. L’UNADFI a dû verser 3.000 EUR à chacune des parties et 4.000 EUR sur la base de l’article 700 du Code de procédure pénale. (Cour d’appel de Paris, Pôle 2, Chambre 2, – Dossier Nr 14/09557 – Arrêt 20.11.2015)

Cette condamnation a été confirmée par la Cour de cassation le 12 janvier 2017. (Cour de Cassation, 2e chambre civile – Dossier Nr 10019 F – Arrêt 12.01.2017)

 

Allemagne

Sur le banc des accusés en 2001 : AGPF/ SEKTEN-INFO ESSEN, affiliée à la FECRIS

Dans un jugement définitif rendu le 19 décembre 2001 par le tribunal d’État de Munich, il a été ordonné à Mme H-M C., fondatrice de Sect-info Essen, de cesser de répéter ou de diffuser une série de contre-vérités sur Takar Singh (un groupe religieux oriental), faute de quoi elle serait condamnée à une amende pouvant atteindre 500 000 DM et, à défaut de paiement, à une peine de prison pouvant aller jusqu’à 6 mois. Il s’agissait d’allégations d’activités criminelles, de torture d’enfants ou de viol publiées dans un livre sur ledit groupe dont la vente a également été interdite. Le titre était « Les nouveaux prophètes » (en allemand : Die Neuen Heilsbringer : Auswege oder Wege ins Aus ?) (Munich I Landgericht/ Tribunal du Land, chambre civile 9 – Affaire Nr. Az : 908736/99 – Entscheidung/ Décision de la Cour : 19.01.2001)

Source : Liberté de religion ou de croyance, mouvements anti-sectes et neutralité de l’État, une étude de cas : FECRIS, pp 191-192

Sur le banc des accusés en 2020 : FECRIS

Le 27 novembre 2020, le tribunal de district de Hambourg a condamné la FECRIS pour avoir diffamé l’association centrale des Témoins de Jéhovah dans des déclarations publiques faites dans le cadre de ses conférences de 2009 à 2017 et publiées ultérieurement sur son site internet. Voir Témoins de Jéhovah en Allemagne contre FECRIS (Dossier réf. 324 O 434/18) au sujet d’une liste de 32 déclarations prétendument diffamatoires : 17 ont été entièrement justifiées et une a été partiellement justifiée par la Cour.

Comme les Témoins de Jéhovah avaient affirmé que 32 déclarations de la FECRIS étaient diffamatoires, et que le tribunal en a jugé 17 comme telles, une partiellement diffamatoire et 14 non diffamatoires, la FECRIS a déclaré avoir « gagné » le procès sur 14 points. Tout en gardant le silence sur les 17 autres points déclarés diffamatoires par le tribunal, la FECRIS a donné la fausse impression, dans un communiqué de presse, que le tribunal de Hambourg avait validé comme vraies les 14 déclarations qu’il avait considérées comme non diffamatoires. Ce communiqué de presse tardif (30 mai 2021) n’était qu’une réaction à un rapport sur la condamnation de la FECRIS publié par Bitter Winter. (Hamburg Landgericht / tribunal du Land – Dossier Ref. 324 O 434/18 – Entscheidung / Décision du tribunal : 27.11.2020)

Il y a davantage d’informations sur cette affaire en Allemagne dans la base de données de nouvelles de HRWF.

 

Espagne

Sur le banc des accusés en 1999 (Cour européenne) : Pro Juventud, affiliée à la FECRIS

Pro Juventud, désormais AIS – Pro Juventud, organisation espagnole affiliée à la FECRIS, a été jugée par la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme en 1999 dans l’affaire Ribera Blume et autres contre l’Espagne pour avoir porté une « responsabilité directe et immédiate » dans une affaire d’enlèvement, d’emprisonnement et de tentative de déprogrammation de membres d’un groupe religieux dans des conditions de privation illégale de liberté et de détention. Le changement forcé de religion est interdit par le droit international. (Cour européenne des droits de l’Homme – Dossier 37680/97 – Décision de la Cour : 14.10.1999)

 

Conclusions

Pendant plus de 25 ans, la FECRIS et ses organisations membres ont diffusé des déclarations diffamatoires sur des groupes religieux et de conviction sous forme imprimée, dans les médias et lors d’auditions parlementaires. Avant de rejoindre la FECRIS, un certain nombre d’associations et leurs dirigeants avaient déjà été condamnés dans des affaires de diffamation par des tribunaux en Suède, en Suisse et dans d’autres pays (Liberté de religion ou de croyance, mouvements anti-sectes et neutralité de l’État, une étude de cas : FECRIS, page 192)

Les exemples de décisions de justice énumérés dans cet article montrent qu’il est dans leur ADN de stigmatiser les groupes religieux ou convictionnels que leurs membres fondateurs et les membres de leur conseil d’administration n’aiment pas pour des raisons personnelles ou par expérience personnelle. Une telle obstination à diffamer et stigmatiser dans les médias un certain nombre de groupes ne suivant pas la ligne traditionnelle a eu un impact négatif et parfois dramatique sur la vie de ceux qui ont librement choisi de suivre leurs enseignements, bien que cela fasse partie de leur droit à la liberté de conscience, de pensée et de croyance.

Si des déclarations diffamatoires similaires visaient des organisations athées ou la foi des juifs ou des musulmans avec la même virulence, cela déclencherait à juste titre un tollé dans la classe politique et les médias. Les adeptes des groupes religieux non traditionnels veulent simplement jouir du même droit à la liberté de conscience, de pensée et de croyance.

La FECRIS et ses organisations membres n’ont pas seulement été condamnées par les tribunaux. Leurs pratiques contraires à l’éthique ont été condamnées à plusieurs reprises à l’OSCE (Organisation pour la Sécurité et la Coopération en Europe) et en 2020 par l’USCIRF (Commission américaine sur la liberté religieuse internationale).

Il est temps que les pouvoirs publics cessent de financer la FECRIS et ses organisations membres, qu’ils les tiennent à distance et qu’ils s’appuient sur des sources et des experts universitaires crédibles.

urther reading about FORB in EU on HRWF website





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GERMANY: FECRIS condemned for 17 slanderous statements

Fake News: FECRIS condemned for slanderous statements in Germany but claiming victory in a press release (!)

FECRIS fined for repeated derogatory statements about Jehovah’s Witnesses

 

HRWF (09.07.2021) – On 27 November 2020, the District Court of Hamburg condemned FECRIS (European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sect) 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.

 

Before deciding to go to court, Jehovah’s Witnesses had sent a warning notice via their authorized legal representatives on 18 May 2018 but FECRIS did not react.

 

The German court verdict in the case Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany v. FECRIS (File ref. 324 O 434/18) concerned a long list of 32 claimed defamatory statements: 17 were fully justified and one was partially justified by the Court.

 

On 30 May 2021, after Bitter Winter had exposed this case, FECRIS published press release where it claimed that it had “won” the Hamburg case. This was repeated by some FECRIS affiliates in different countries, but it was just an attempt to throw dust in the eyes of those who have not read the decision. The court decision is available in German and in English on HRWF website.

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 claimed that it had “won” the case since the 14 statements declared non-defamatory were “essential,” and the 18 points for which they were sentenced were “ancillary.”

Court decision concerning the 32 disputed statements: Official text

  • “Under penalty of a Court-imposed administrative fine for each case of infringement – or, in the event this cannot be collected, administrative detention or administrative detention for up to six months – the Defendant shall refrain from distributing and/or causing to be distributed the following regarding the Plaintiff and its members, as has been done on “www.fecris.org” and the Court listed the litigious statements concerned.”
  • Additionally, the Court ruled that “the value of the matter in dispute is set at EUR 176,000.”
  • FECRIS is ordered to pay Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany EUR 2,217.45 in prelitigation costs.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses must bear 46% and FECRIS 54% of the costs of the lawsuit.
  • “The judgment is provisionally enforceable with regard to the operative part under point I. of the judgment, but only against provision of security to the amount of EUR 94,500; otherwise, in each case, against security to the amount of 110% of the respective amounts to be enforced.”

FECRIS’ distortion of the court decision debunked by Massimo Introvigne in Bitter Winter: Excerpt

“Lawyers know that attacking untrue factual allegations is difficult, and the border between permissible, if strongly worded, critical statements and illegal slander is difficult to determine.

The German Jehovah’s Witnesses asked the District Court of Hamburg to examine 32 statements. The court found 17 of them defamatory, one partially defamatory, and 14 non-defamatory. The court noted that in German law “expressions of opinion enjoy extensive protection. Accordingly, inaccurate opinions also share in the scope of protection.” In several cases, the court agreed with the Jehovah’s Witnesses that FECRIS statements were “inaccurate,” but ruled them beyond the scope of defamation. 4 out of 32 statements were even judged to be inadmissible expressions of opinion, i.e., beyond the borders of legitimate freedom of expression.

Consistently with case law in other European countries, the Hamburg judges also stated that in the field of religious and anti-religious controversy strong-worded expressions are common, and cannot be censored as defamation, concluding that calling the Jehovah’s Witnesses “disrespectful of human rights” remains within the limits of freedom of expression. I may personally disagree with this evaluation, but where these limits lie is never easy to assess.

In the majority of the cases, however, the court found that FECRIS had crossed the border of defamation. The Hamburg judges also established the principle that the fact that Russian authorities or courts had included negative evaluations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in their official documents or decisions does not entitle a German defendant to repeat or republish them, if they are inherently defamatory and false.

In this Russian-derivative category of statements are that among the “characteristic features” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are “illegal possession of property,” the fact that they “took possession of citizens’ apartments,” commit “religiously motivated crimes,” bring “adult and children to their death.” They were all found to be untrue factual allegations by a decision that should serve as a warning to all FECRIS-affiliated organizations. That defamatory statements about the Jehovah’s Witnesses come from Russian official documents does not mean that organizations in democratic countries are free to reprint them.

The court also found that FECRIS distorts the theology and practices of the Jehovah’s Witnesses with the intention of defaming them. FECRIS falsely claimed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that “there is a difference between men and women who receive the heavenly calling from God, in that only women ‘must receive a change of nature,’ but not men,” that women who serve as door-to-door missionaries are “women slaves,” and children are “compelled” to participate in the public preaching, that women in the family should not only submit to their husbands but also “to their male children,” are “forbidden to divorce without being immediately excommunicated,” and “cannot rebel within the home without being immediately judged by the congregation’s elders.” That Jehovah’s Witnesses teenagers caught kissing are automatically “taken to a JW’s judicial committee,” and that a young woman who stays overnight in the home of a male friend would be found guilty by a judicial committee even in the absence of other elements indicating an improper relationship, were also judged to be false and defamatory statements. Another false claim the court regarded as defamatory was that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have announced 26 different dates for the end of the world and are now predicting it for the year 2034.

FECRIS was also found guilty of defamation for reporting inaccurately that the Royal Australian Commission report on sexual abuse found “4,000 cases of victims of pedophilia in Australia” among the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, the Australian Witnesses had given to the Royal Commission all disciplinary reports and referrals, proven and unproven, that had been submitted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Australia over a 65-year period, for a total of 1,006 reports—which obviously did not mean that there had been 1,006 cases of sexual abuse among them, and certainly not 4,000.

The Hamburg judges found that accusations of covering up sexual abuse cases raised by FECRIS against the Jehovah’s Witnesses are often based on false and defamatory statements, such as, “The child is brought forward to explain in detail what happened. They must remember each act, and the elders ask precise questions,” the child’s mother “cannot be in attendance,” and “the child must meet the rapist.” These statements, the court said, are factually “untrue,” as in fact “a child only testifies before the elders if the child absolutely wants to and if this is granted,” the child’s mother may be called in for “moral support,” and “the elders never require victims to put forward their allegations in the presence of the accused.” FECRIS’ statement that, when a perpetrator of sexual abuse of minors has been identified, the elders do not warn families with minor children in their own and neighboring congregations by disclosing the name of the guilty person was found to be partially defamatory. The court concluded that elders properly advise families with minor children of their own congregation, but that plaintiffs did not prove that they also warn neighboring congregations.

Sometimes, it is unclear whether FECRIS activists, who claim to be experts on “cults,” are in bad faith or simply incompetent. They published the case of a 17-year-old Dutch girl who died during a measles epidemic in 2013 after her parents had refused vaccination for religious reasons and implied she was a Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, she was a member of a Calvinist Christian Reformed congregation, i.e., belonged to a church known for being a staunch opponent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Interestingly, on January 5, 2021, FECRIS petitioned a correction of the judgment’s section addressing the facts of the case. FECRIS requested that in the facts of the judgment the sentence, “The statements refer neither directly nor indirectly to Jehovah’s Witnesses,” should be corrected as follows: “The statements do not refer to the plaintiff.”

FECRIS obviously intended to limit the scope of the decision to the German organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that was the plaintiff in the case, and remain free to defame Jehovah’s Witnesses in general. In its decision dated January 22, 2021, the court shared the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position that the German public corporation can legally represent Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany and defend their personal rights and reputation.

FECRIS comes out of the Hamburg decision with its image of an organization of “experts,” who deserve to be supported by taxpayers’ money in France and elsewhere, deeply shattered. It rather emerges as a coalition of purveyors of fake news, which systematically use defamation to attack groups they label as “cults.” Hopefully, the German decision will become a model for others in different jurisdictions, teaching FECRIS-affiliated anti-cult movements that they may have powerful patrons but are not above the law.”

Photo: Jehovah’s Witnesses evangelizing in Frankfurt, Germany. Source: jw.org.

Further reading about FORB in Germany on HRWF website





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EUROPE: FECRIS and affiliates: Defamation is in their DNA

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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