In contrast to this landmark ruling [of the European Court of Human Rights in the Jehovah’s Witnesses vs. Russia case], the French Miviludes (Interministerial Mission to fight against sectarian abuses), a governmental body, continues its discriminatory and Inquisition-like methods. Not only does the Miviludes neglect to encourage dialogue with family members, it does not seek to learn the truth upon receiving recriminating letters from individuals who are unwilling to accept their relatives‘ choice to live as members of a religious minority. With no further investigation or analysis, but solely on the basis of such accusations of family break-up, MIVILUDES labels various religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses “sectarian,” thus violating the standards established by the European Court of Human Rights.
In May 2009, the president of MIVILUDES announced in the media the creation of a list—modestly named “referential” so as not to offend human rights bodies—including around 600 “sectarian groups.” This list was established on the sole basis of complaints received against minority religions. No access to this “referential” was given to the targeted groups so they could answer and rectify any mistaken allegations or lies (see “Black List or no Black List?”).
This referential was not made public, but it was made available to judicial authorities and social services and to local officials in decision-making positions, such as those determining the rental of conference rooms or childcare services for members of minority religious groups.
When supplying biased information in such a covert manner, the Miviludes tries to exert undue influence on the judiciary and government officials. This constitutes a violation of the rights of the members of religious minorities to presumption of innocence, to non-discrimination in their family disputes, in their private life and their professional activity.
“The referential is really a blacklist, a document allegedly pointing to what is right and what is wrong, which is impossible to regulate in an official policy,” claims Olivier Bobineau, sociologist and former Counsellor to Miviludes.
“Stigmatizing specific groups can incite violent abuses: after the Parliament issued a list of ‘cults’ in 1995, prayer rooms of the Jehovah Witnesses were set on fire.”
“A voluntary and conscious choice”
The Court found that “the individual applicants and other members of the applicant community testified before the court that they had made a voluntary and conscious choice of their religion and, having accepted the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses, followed its doctrines of their own free will.”
Here again, the MIVILUDES opposes the conclusions of the European Court of Human Rights so as to justify its repression of religious communities. Though their members have made a “voluntary and conscious choice” such as in the Jehovah’s Witnesses vs. Russia case, the MIVILUDES deems that such a choice is of no value and must not be taken into account. It recommends that these adepts be treated like incapable adults, in the legal meaning of this term.
For these conscious adepts he regards as “incapable,” Miviludes’ head Fenech also recommended that in case of an incident such as a police raid in their community, they are taken care of during their police custody by a psychologist or association that “protects” families because they are “liable to have strong emotional reactions” in protest of such an event. According to his 2008 report, this takeover is necessary to ensure “treatment” of the adepts and prevent the dismantled community from coming together again.
These recommendations were applied with the establishment on September 1, 2009, of a specialized police unit. The main target of CAIMADES (Cell of Assistance and Intervention in matters of sectarian abuses) is a certain type of population (members of new spiritual groups) who, in case of specific offenses, will be treated differently than other citizens. Thus, while the European Court upholds the individual’s right to live according to one’s own choices and religious beliefs, the Miviludes introduced an exception to this right, on the sole basis of the beliefs of the targeted individuals.
This is also a direct violation of the official policy explained by David Sénat, Councellor for legal affairs and Cults to the Ministry of Interior: “In France, nobody can be disciplined for one’s beliefs. This is a basis of our Republic. Opinions cannot be punished, only actions can be.”
The decision of the European Court of Human Rights on 10 June 2010 exemplifies once again how France is isolated in its intolerance policy regarding religious minorities. It also helps estimate Miviludes at its true value: a purely French phenomenon, opposed to the trend of European policy protecting human rights and freedom of conscience. Its narrow ideas have no place in today’s multicultural society.