Author: Willy Fautré
Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers
Minority religious or belief groups around the world are often victims of suspicion, prejudices, stigmatization, discrimination, fabricated charges, miscarriage of justice, intolerance and even physical violence although they teach and practice peace and love for all human beings without any distinction.
This is the case for Ahmadis in Pakistan where they are considered heretics.
This is the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia where they are stigmatized as extremists and have been banned for five years.
This is the case for all faiths in China where atheism is the doctrine of the CCP.
But this is also the case in our European democratic countries with minority groups which were created in a recent past. Media outlets and public authorities stigmatize them as cults, harmful or dangerous and that has quite a negative impact on the lives of their members.
MISA is one of such groups in Romania.
MISA (Movement for Spiritual Integration in the Absolute) is a non-profit organization registered in 1990 in Bucharest. It was founded by 27 people, including their spiritual master Gregorian Bivolaru. Its first objective is “to raise the cultural and spiritual level of people through an adequate, deeply beneficial preparation, to popularize knowledge in the fields of yoga”.
MISA is a loose network of training centers, yoga schools and ashrams. Before the 2004 police crackdown, it numbered about 37,000 practitioners. In addition, there were about 40 ashrams in Romania where some 750 people were living and practising yoga. After the 2004 events, the number dramatically decreased due to the social panic instilled by the media.
The project to destroy any ‘unwelcome’ or socially/politically rejected group in societies which have a problem with the otherness concept usually follows a well-known pattern:
These three strategies were chronologically used against MISA and Gregorian Bivolaru.
In this presentation today, I will focus on the fabrication of the criminal case against Gregorian Bivolaru as a way to try to get rid of MISA.
A fabricated case against Gregorian Bivolaru
On 18th March 2004, 300 masked policemen from the anti-terrorist forces crashed into 16 private homes of yoga practitioners, including the MISA library and some ashrams in Bucharest.
The police removed people from their beds and forced them out at gun point during their search.
The apartment of Gregorian Bivolaru was vandalized by police, and the door and windows were broken.
Several individuals were taken to the police station and interrogated.
Police video recordings of people in humiliating situations were leaked to the media and widely broadcasted.
The police confiscated study materials about yoga, books and brochures as well as private diaries and tapes of some yoga practitioners that were leaked to the media and used for slandering.
In the aftermath of the raid, the Prosecutor’s Office filed a court case on sexual abuse of a minor (Art. 198 par. 2 and 3 of the Criminal Code) and sexual perversion (Art. 201, par. 2 and 31 of the Criminal Code) as well as human trafficking allegedly committed by Gregorian Bivolaru.
The concerned minor was interrogated for 13 hours without the help of a lawyer and outside the presence of her parents. She was forced to write a statement that was afterwards misused to give her the status of injured party – first without her knowledge and afterwards against her will - and to incriminate Gregorian Bivolaru.
Despite the fact that with the help of a lawyer she retracted her statement the next morning, the case was channelled through irreversible judicial proceedings.
After years of judicial proceedings, Gregorian Bivolaru was acquitted of the charges of sexual intercourse with a minor in 2010 and this was confirmed in 2011 by another court decision after the Prosecutor’s Office had appealed the not-guilty verdict. But the judicial saga was still not finished and in May 2013, Gregorian Bivolariu was declared in a final judgment guilty of one single offence: repeated sexual intercourse with one minor, M.D, from 2002 to 2004.
All the other charges were false and were dropped for lack of evidence but they had been largely publicized in the media and that is what public opinion will remember.
In 2013, I was in Romania to collect some information about MISA and their spiritual leader, and to check the reality, or not, of the accusations of sexual intercourse with a minor brought in court against Gregorian Bivolaru.
The interview and testimony of the minor
At 8 am on 18th March 2004, while she was just waking up from her night rest, M. D., then aged 17 years and a half, was suddenly surrounded by some fifteen armed and masked policemen. While she was just barely dressed, someone started filming her from half a meter distance.
Her narrative of these events was summarized as follows by the Supreme Court of Sweden in its 21 October 2005 decision in the case of extradition of Bivolaru requested by Romania:
She thought they were thieves. She was frightened and ran thinly dressed into her girlfriend’s room where she tried to hide. In a minute, black-dressed men got into the room and aimed weapons at them. They were ordered to lay themselves down on the floor where she was left thinly dressed for half an hour. When she tried to get up, she was kicked in her chest. After many hours, during which search of premises went on, she was brought to a place unknown to her which, as was told her later, belonged to the Prosecution Authority. There she was humiliated and forced - as dictated by the interrogation officers – to write an accusation against Gregorian Bivolaru.
On the day later, the minor accompanied her lawyer to the Prosecution Authority in order to retract the statement she had been forced to sign in the absence of her parents and a lawyer but her revised statement denying any sexual abuse was not attached to the documents of the file.
Investigation about the misuse of the minor’s testimony
In 2002, M.D. started to get interested in the yoga teachings of Gregorian Bivolaru and participated in his yoga camps taking place in her region.
In 2003, she started sharing her life with her partner L.R. and when I met them for an interview ten years later, they were still in partnership relationship. Here is what she told me in the presence of her beloved:
She was never a yoga student of Gregorian Bivolaru. She first saw him from distance at the annual MISA yoga camp in Costinesti in 2002 which was attended by thousands of people and later on she met him during his public conferences and during social events attended by many. M.D. confirmed me in the presence of her boy-friend (for 10 years) that she never had any sexual intercourse with Bivolaru.
Moreover, at the time of the alleged sexual abuse, Gregorian Bivolaru had a love relationship with a woman living in the same building as M.D.
In the light of these love partnerships, the accusations about the alleged facts – sexual intercourse during two years - should have been considered very fragile but they were not. Every time, the minor confirmed the real facts in the presence of her partner, who believed her, including when I met them on the 10th anniversary of their life together.
Over the nine years of the judicial procedures, M.D. was summoned many times to court hearings. She told me “My life has been completely destroyed by the Romanian judicial system and the media. Instead of trying to forget my traumatic experience, I had to repeat the reality of the facts to judges who were doubting my sincerity.”