Former Scientology Church Official Sentenced to 18 Months
LYON, France (AP) _ A former Church of Scientology leader was convicted of involuntary homicide and sentenced to 18 months in prison Friday in the 1988 suicide of a church member.
Twelve other defendants facing lesser charges _ theft, complicity or abuse of confidence _ were given suspended sentences of eight to 15 months each. Charges were dropped against 10 others.
Jean-Jacques Mazier, the former head of the church in Lyon, France’s second-largest city, was also fined $100,000, the Lyon court ruled. The prosecution had requested a three-year suspended sentence.
In a statement issued in Los Angeles, the Church of Scientology International claimed victory for the acquittals and suspended sentences, but said the conviction was ``a politically-motivated ruling from a politically-pressured court that held a politically-motivated heresy trial.″ It said appeals would be pursued.
The church said that besides Mazier, 14 defendants were given suspended sentences and charges were dropped for eight. The discrepancy could not immediately be reconciled.
In Lyon, Scientology lawyer Olivier Metzner called the ruling ``a value judgment ... to define the limits of what is `religiously correct.″
Last month’s trial centered on the March 1988 suicide of Patrice Vic, 31, who jumped from a window to his death. The trial centered around Vic’s death, but its scope widened as investigators uncovered evidence of financial wrongdoing and more Scientology officials were charged.
Prosecutors said Vic was under pressure from the church to take a $6,000 ``purification treatment,″ including daily sauna treatments and a low-sugar, high-vitamin diet.
Vic was subjected to ``psychological torture,″ the court said in its 200-page ruling.
``The signs of psychological distress manifested by Patrick Vic should have led (Mazier) to treat his case with prudence and to take the necessary precautions,″ the court said.
During the trial, Mazier testified he was ``a man of the church″ who was only trying to help Vic. ``When someone has difficulties in life, Scientologists teach him how to put his life in order,″ Mazier said.
Prosecutors called the church a ``money pump″ and contended its leaders manipulated people to join the church and make contributions.
In its ruling, the court said it was in no position to judge whether Scientology could be considered a true religion because ``freedom of belief is one of the fundamental elements of public freedom.″
Nevertheless, it said its ruling was ``in the interest of public order″ because of the techniques used by the church.
The French parliament has called Scientology a cult, including it on a list of 173 groups it said should be tracked to prevent cult activities. Scientology also was one of 28 cults the government said were recruiting children.
Pressure has mounted in France to keep tabs on religious cults since last December, when the charred bodies of 16 members of the Swiss-based Order of the Solar Temple were found lying in an Alpine clearing in eastern France.
Founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Los Angeles-based organization teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve human problems.
The church has been taking out full-page ads in international newspapers describing itself as open to people from all races and walks of life.