My name is Raffaella Di Marzio. I’ve been running the Centre for Information and Advise – Sect, Religions and Spirituality in Rome for 12 years. I’ve been studying and researching the phenomenon and the spreading of religious and spiritual minorities in Italy for almost 20 years. According to the data provided by CESNUR (directed by Massimo Introvigne) in 2012, 836 organized minorities, both religious and spiritual, are present in Italy, 200 more compared to 2001.
For the last 15 years, my country has been witnessing the growing of dangerous scenarios of intolerance against religious minorities, as well as spiritual, which are variously labelled and stigmatized as “cults”, “psycho-cults”, “satanic cults”, destructive cults”, etc.
This ad hoc manufactured alarm was such that in 2006 the Ministry of Interior established an Anti-Sect Police Squad (SAS) which “would have committed blatant miscarriages of justice in Florence, Bari, Assisi etc., as it is coordinated by contact persons and “experts” belonging to anti-cult movements. As a result, we can see the fostering of a mood of diffidence that is jeopardising the inclusion of religious minorities in the country, while endorsing a “cult alarm” not supported by facts; […] SAS law enforcement agencies operated with the almost unique help of the “Anti-cult Forum”; although it seems they have no proven scientificity in their research methods, nor academic superiority in any fields, it is a member of FECRIS, a French body known for the controversies regarding accusations of religious intolerance…” (Senators Perduca and Poretti, 16° Legislature, Atto di Sindacato Ispettivo N. 4-08595, November 5th, 2012).
A number of MPs suspected that SAS activities were incompatible with the Italian Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and the guide lines of the Council of Europe (Senators Perduca and Poretti, 16° Legislature, Atto di Sindacato Ispettivo N. 4-08595, November 5th, 2012; MP Binetti, 16° Legislature, Atto di Sindacato Ispettivo N. 3-02387, Thursday, July 12th, 2012, session N. 665; MP Pastore, 16° Legislature, Atto di Sindacato Ispettivo N. 3-02822,, April 26th, 2012, session N. 716).
For the past years, tenth of religious and spiritual minorities have been persecuted and defamed in Italy with very serious charges based on the “cult” stigma. I’ll cite just a few examples, such as Ananda Assisi, Bambini di Satana (Children of Satan), Osho Campus, Damanhur, Anima Universale (Universal Soul), Osho Miasto; these spiritual associations were brought to court, tried and mostly acquitted; in a few cases the crimes were committed by individual members and never involved the whole organization. The most recent case is the spiritual-anthropological association Arkeon, originally charged by a FECRIS member organization backed by media, to be the most dangerous psycho-cult ever existed in Italy and to mentally manipulate its members. Judges found that the main and more serious charge against Arkeon, that of being a “psycho-cult”, was totally ungrounded (Verdict N. 6445/06RGNR; n. 2492/09R.G.Trib.; 1558/12 Reg. Sent. p.896-897, July, 16th 2012, deposited on January, 10th, 2013).
I’m here to point out to OSCE, which operates to ensure peace, democracy and stability, the risk that Italy experiments limitations or violations of religious freedom for minorities, and to ask to Italian authorities:
– to investigate, also through a Commission of Inquiry, and check the constitutionality and legality of the Anti-Sect Police Department and the honesty of its activities, particularly in regard to the contact persons it relies upon to monitor religious and spiritual groups;
– to verify if the Anti-Sect Police Squad, in its finalities and operations, is violating the constitutionally protected right to profess one’s own religion and beliefs;
– to undertake strategies of reception and constructive dialogue towards religious and spiritual minorities in Italy, so to promote integration and pacific coexistence.
Raffaella Di Marzio, Psychologist of Religion, International Member of APA (American Psychological Association), director of a Centre of Information on cults, New Religious Movements and Anti-cult Movements (www.dimarzio.it), member of the managing board of SIPR (Italian Society of Psychology of Religion). She is ICSA Today’s News Co-Correspondent for Italy , Italian contact for Human Rights Without Frontiers Newsletter “Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief” and a former member of an anti-sect organisation.
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