The Church of Scientology has gone on trial in the French capital, Paris, accused of organised fraud.
The case centres on a complaint by a woman who says she was pressured into paying large sums of money after being offered a free personality test.
The church, which is fighting the charges, denies that any mental manipulation took place.
France regards Scientology as a sect, not a religion, and the organisation could be banned if it loses the case.
It will be the first time the church has appeared as a defendant in a fraud case in France. Previous court cases have involved individual Scientologists.
Books and medication
The woman at the centre of the case says she was approached by church members in Paris 10 years ago, and offered a free personality test. But, she says, she ended up spending 21,000 euros ($29,400, £18,400) on lessons, books and medicines she was told would cure her poor mental state.
Her lawyers are arguing that the church systematically seeks to make money by means of mental pressure and the use of scientifically dubious “cures”.
A lawyer for the church, Patrick Maisonneuve, said: “We will contest every charge and prove that there was no mental manipulation.”
The church’s spokeswoman in France said it was being “hounded” by the French courts.
Scientology was founded in the United States in the 1954 by science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard. High profile supporters include the Hollywood stars John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
In Germany last year, it was declared unconstitutional.
However, a Spanish court ruled that the Church of Scientology of Spain should be re-entered into the country’s register of officially recognised religions.
Â This ought to be interesting.
The Internet-based group “Anonymous” has released statements on YouTube and via a press release, outlining what they call a “War on Scientology”. Church of Scientology related websites, such as religousfreedomwatch.org have been removed due to a suspected distributed denial-of-service-attack (DDoS) by a group calling themselves “Anonymous”. On Friday, the same group allegedly brought down Scientology‘s main website, scientology.org, which was available sporadically throughout the weekend.
Several websites relating to the Church of Scientology have been slowed down, brought to a complete halt or seemingly removed from the Internet completely in an attack which seems to be continuous. The scientology.org site was back online briefly on Monday, and is currently loading slowly.
On Monday, the group released a video titled: “Message to Scientology” on YouTube concerning their intentions to attack the Church of Scientology. A robotic voice on the video begins with “Hello leaders of Scientology. We are Anonymous,” and continues by explaining their motivations: “Over the years we have been watching you, your campaigns of misinformation, your suppression of dissent and your litigious nature. All of these things have caught our eye. With the leakage of your latest propaganda video into mainstream circulation the extent of your malign influence over those who have come to trust you as leaders has been made clear to us. Anonymous has therefore decided that your organisation should be destroyed.” The message goes on to state that the group intends to “expel Scientology from the Internet”. As of Wednesday, the video had been viewed 370,347 times, favorited 2,473 times, and is currently YouTube’s top third video of the day.
The “Message to Scientology” video was highlighted as the “YouTube Video of the Week” by The Michigan Daily. Commenting on the video, the piece states “if this video is any indication, it seems like the assailants mean business”. In a blog post on USA Today‘s website, Jess Zielinski wrote that it was “not a shock that hackers hold a grudge against Scientology,” and in a followup post on another USA Today blog, Angela Gunn wrote that “those of us who remember … the adventures of Operation Clambake are fascinated to see this kind of thing flare up again”. Blogging for Wired magazine, Ryan Singel wrote about the incident in a piece on Wednesay titled “War Breaks Out Between Hackers and Scientology — There Can Be Only One”. Singel wrote that the Project Chanology wiki page “directs Anonymous members to download and use denial of service software, make prank calls, host Scientology documents the Church considers proprietary, and fax endless loops of black pages to the Church’s fax machines to waste ink”. According to Wired, “The Church of Scientology did not immediately respond to a call for comment”.