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French prosecutor to appeal Scientology case

July 29, 1997 GMT

LYON, France (AP) _ A day after a French court reduced the sentence of a Church of Scientology leader convicted of involuntary homicide, the prosecution said it would appeal the decision.

The court also threw out the convictions of nine Scientologists on charges of theft, complicity or abuse of confidence, and reduced the fines of four others.

In a key part of the ruling that church leaders called a ``dramatic victory,″ the appeals court in Lyon also said Monday it was not its role to judge whether Scientology was a sect or a religion.

The prosecutor’s office said today it would appeal the case to France’s highest court.

Prosecutors had argued the church was a sect that defrauded people of their money. The defense had argued it was a legitimate religion with the right to ask members for money.

But the appeals court said Scientology’s status was irrelevant in judging its financial activities.

``From now on, it is pointless to question whether the Church of Scientology constitutes a sect or a religion, the freedom of belief (in France) being absolute,″ the court said.

``The Church of Scientology can claim the title of being a religion, and can operate freely.″

Parliament recently designated Scientology a sect, including it on a list of 173 groups that should be tracked to prevent cult activities.

The case centered on the 1988 suicide of Patrice Vic, 31, who jumped out a window to his death. Prosecutors said he was under pressure from the church to take a costly ``purification treatment,″ including sauna treatments and a special diet.

Jean-Jacques Mazier subjected Vic to ``psychological torture,″ the lower court said in November. Convicting him of involuntary homicide and fraud, it sentenced him to a 3-year jail term with 18 months suspended.

The appeals court said Mazier’s sentence had been too harsh, giving him a 3-year suspended sentence. He must pay a $83,000 fine.

Scientology teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems.