During our side event at OSCE regarding “Voluntary work in spiritual environments and its criminalization in modern society” we have had the opportunity to listen to NARYA TOSSETTO – the representative of Ananda Assisi, Italy.
He shared with us important information about what happened to the Ananda Assisi community from Italy, a few years ago.
Here is a short description of his story and you will also find his video – presentation.
“CASE AGAINST ANANDA ITALY 2002 – 2009
The investigation into the Ananda community and its various corporate structures began with a Complaint lodged by an individual who had lived in the community for about 2 years. He complained that Ananda was a sect which held people against their will, enslaved them by forcing them to work without being paid, conspired to engage in criminal activities, coercion of handicapped and vulnerable individuals, and other accusations including the premise that Ananda was a “pseudo-religion”.
This complaint was not acted upon at the beginning, but eventually found its way to the office of a Marshall of the police who took it to a prosecutor in the regional Tribunal, both of whom saw in it the potential for a high-profile case that might advance their careers. In fact, both of them were eventually rewarded for their part in the process, even though the Tribunal eventually dismissed the case entirely.
An investigation ensued, during which time the telephones of the community offices and individuals were monitored. The prosecutor obtained a search warrant, and the offices and homes of certain individuals were searched in January, 2004. Personal items, monies, computers and files were sequestered, by a force of 80 policemen with dogs and arms. Banks accounts of all community entities and some individuals were blocked for a considerable time.
This in itself could have closed the community had we not been able to obtain financial support to continue our operations and to engage excellent lawyers.
When the computers were returned, they contained listening devices and it required extensive legal action by our attorneys to unblock the bank accounts and get the files returned.
The investigation continued, and in March arrest warrants were issued for 10 individuals, including the community’s founder, Swami Kriyananda, who at the time was residing at the Ananda community in India. 9 people were jailed for 5 days, and then released under house arrest for a number of weeks, after which that order was dissolved.
After more years of investigation, the case eventually came to the Preliminary Hearing. Aside from the original complaint, evidence of which was not presented, no other substantive evidence had been collected, even after years of electronic surveillance. Ananda’s lawyers were aggressive and brilliant in their presentation, and the judge agreed with their stance that there were no victims who had come forward aside from the original complainant, that insufficient evidence was offered by the prosecutor, and therefore the case was dismissed and all accusations expunged from the records.
In his written judgment, the judge addressed two very important issues:
This case has become known in legal circles throughout Italy for several reasons: that it was dismissed at Preliminary Hearing is rare, almost unheard of. Judges will always agree to send cases to trial and let the trial judge make the decision. Our lawyers are recognized as having presented a brilliant case.
Also this case touched on important constitutional issues, and it recognized a non-Catholic religious group as having constitutional protections. This sets a precedent for future cases, and also acts as a warning to both police and church officials that the courts will not sanction collusion between church and state to deny groups freedom of religion.”