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"French court fines Church of Scientology over data violation, acquits church of attempted fraud and false advertising"

by Verena Von Derschau (AP, May 17, 2002)

PARIS - A French court on Friday fined the Paris branch of the Church of Scientology for a data protection violation but acquitted the church of attempted fraud and false advertising in connection with its efforts to recruit and keep members.
The court fined the church 8,000 euros (about dlrs 7,300), while imposing a 2,000-euro fine (dlrs 1,824) on Marc Walter, the president of the Ile de France section that includes Paris.
The court also declined to impose the harshest penalty sought by prosecutors - an order to disband the church's Paris branch.
The church said it would appeal the ruling, saying that it violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
"The decision is an attempt to apply commercial law to prohibit religious expression. It is an intolerable interference by the state with the religious freedom won from 2000 years of history in Europe," said Leisa Goodman, human rights director for the Los Angeles-based church.
The conviction stemmed from a complaint by a former member who said he was bombarded with publicity materials even though he wished to end his membership.
France has long had a contentious relationship with the church, and the trial marked the first time the organization itself was being taken to court. Several of the group's leaders in France have faced separate legal battles.
Scientologists have likened the trial, which began in February, to a witch hunt and say their faith is a religion like any other. The church has 40,000 members in France, including 20,000 in Paris.
The Church of Scientology has sought recognition as a religion in Europe, but many Europeans are skeptical. In France, it figures on a list of nearly 200 groups to be tracked to prevent cult activities.
France has been increasingly inhospitable to groups that it calls sects. Last year it adopted a law that increases the country's judicial arsenal against sects as part of a larger crackdown.
The Church of Scientology, which counts actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its members, was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard. It teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems.

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