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FACTBOX - Scientology in France on trial

PARIS (Reuters) - The Church of Scientology’s French branch went on trial on Monday on charges of organised fraud.

The group’s Paris headquarters and bookshop are defendants in the case. If found guilty, they could be fined 5 million euros (4.4 million pounds) and ordered to cease their activities.

Following is a summary of Scientology’s history and main activities.

HISTORY

Founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology describes itself as a religion that seeks spiritual enlightenment. Celebrity members include actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

TESTS AND CURES

The French trial centres on complaints by former Scientology members who say they were cajoled into spending up to hundreds and thousands of euros on personality tests, vitamin cures, sauna sessions and counselling with an “e-metre.”

Scientology members usually undergo personality tests and a form of counselling called “auditing.”

In an auditing session, the counsellor, known as the “auditor,” locates spiritual problems of the patient, known as the “preclear,” through questions and the use of an “e-metre,” Scientology says on its website.

French investigators have described the e-metre as useless. Scientology says it is a religious artefact used in a procedure that addresses spiritual problems and leads to greater happiness.

COST

On its website, Scientology justifies the cost of its sessions by saying they could be compared to courses in a school or university. It says the “auditing” sessions help members reach levels on which they are “literally seeking immortality, which is priceless.”

LEGAL TUSSLES

In 2002, a Spanish court dismissed a 14-year-old case against Scientology’s international president on charges of illicit association.

In Germany, federal and state interior ministers declared the Church of Scientology unconstitutional in 2007, opening the way for a possible ban on the organisation.

But experts at Germany’s domestic intelligence agencies believe there is not enough evidence to justify a ban, according to German media reports.

In France, Scientology has faced numerous setbacks, with members convicted of fraud in Lyon in 1997 and Marseille in 1999. In 2002, a court fined it for violating privacy laws and said it could be dissolved if involved in similar cases.

Scientology says it has gone to court in many countries to uphold the right to freedom of religion.

Sources: Reuters News, The Church of Scientology

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