Belgium: Trial Court Dismisses All Charges Against Church of Scientology and Eleven Scientologists

Victory for the human rights

Eighteen years of judicial harassment of the Church of Scientology of Belgium and its members ended on 11 March 2016 when a ruling of the Criminal Court in Brussels became final.  The 173-page decision found inadmissible all proceedings against the defendants, including the Church of Scientology of Belgium and the Human Rights Office of Church of Scientology International, thereby declaring all charges of the federal prosecutor to be unfounded.

For almost two decades, until judgment was rendered in March 2016, the defendants were unfairly labelled as “guilty” criminals by the prosecution and the media without having their day in Court, stigmatizing and marginalizing them in their communities and disrupting their lives.

The Court clearly recognized that it offends fundamental human rights for the prosecution to put a religion on trial and argue that individuals who simply follow its precepts and voluntarily associate with it should somehow be presumed guilty of a crime without any concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

The case started in 1997, when the Belgian government published a 670 page Belgium Parliamentary Commission Report that stigmatized 189 religious organizations, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Scientologists, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Amish, and Pentecostals, by reproducing unilateral accusations against these communities, falsely labeling them as “dangerous sects” without any investigation, cross examination or response by the religions themselves.

Starting in 1997, repressive measures were initiated by the Belgian government to target religions derogatorily designated as “sects”. As the International Helsinki Federation noted in 2003, actions taken by the Belgian government in the aftermath of the Parliamentary Report led to public hostility, discrimination and the stigmatization and marginalization of members of these religious groups.

Shortly after the Belgium Parliamentary Commission “Sect Report” was published, a Belgian Prosecutor initiated an intrusive investigation into sincerely held Scientology religious beliefs and peaceful religious practices targeting Scientologists and the Scientology religious community in Brussels. In September 1999, a series of police raids were executed by 120 members of the anti-terrorist Cell of the Brussels Gendarmerie on the Church of Scientology in Brussels, the residences of targeted Scientologists in Belgium and France, and their businesses. The Church's computers and its priest-penitent files were seized during the police searches that happened in 1999 and then in 2001. These files have never been returned.

Once the investigation commenced in 1997, Scientologists and the Church of Scientology were singled out by the prosecution for adverse treatment afforded religious groups stigmatized as “sects”. This investigation improperly focused on the teachings and beliefs of the Scientology religion and improperly attempted to criminalize these teachings and beliefs. The investigation lasted for over 18 years, egregiously interfering with the right of the Church of Scientology to go about its religious mission and the right of Scientologists to freely practice their faith in Belgium.