European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom

Mistreatments of religious minorities: the French Model

Written the Friday, October 18th 2013 à 23:02

Speech given the 16 October 2013 in Brussels at the Seminar "Freedom of opinion, religion and belief — Persecution of, and discrimination against, minority-groups" Organized by EIFRF with the partnership of
• The Gerard Noodt Foundation for FoRB
• Pro Europa Christiana
• Soteria International
• CAPLC Europe
• FOREF Europe

Mistreatments of religious minorities: the French Model
By Eric Roux
EIFRF Steering Committee

Some other speakers will speak of the good practices that exist in Europe regarding the treatment of religious minorities but I will have the difficult task of describing a country with a system which is known for its discriminatory and bad practices. Unfortunately, I know this country pretty well, as it is mine: France.
For your understanding of the French system regarding religious minorities, or even religions at large, I will explain how this system works, and what are its particularities.
So let’s start by the governmental aspect of it. In France, there is a governmental agency called MIVILUDES, a French acronym which means in English “Interministerial Mission of vigilance and fight against sectarian deviances”. It falls directly under the governance of the French Prime Minister. 
Unfortunately, the word “sect” or “cult” has no legal definition in France, which allows this kind of agency to use it against every movement, religion, or even individual that they want to get the rid off. This use of the word “sect” allows them to target any group, by making a distinction between “good” and “bad” religions, distinctions which are made by the State, even if without any legal ground, in an absolute violation of any International or European Human Rights standards, but also in violation of the French constitution, which forbids to the State to interfere in the sphere of religions or to discriminate between religions.
A sectarian deviance is defined in the 2008 annual Report of the MIVILUDES as mental subjugation whereby: “One or more people start to believe in certain ideas which differ from the ideas generally accepted by society.”
Other French government officials have made public pronouncements regarding their “fight” against what they consider to be “deviating” beliefs. For example, at a conference given by MIVILUDES at the Lyon City Hall in November 2009, the French Secretary of State for Justice, Jean-Marie Bockel, stated: 
“The sectarian phenomenon can be analysed as pathology of belief against a background of individuation and deregulation of belief.”  
Such statements, which have been published in national media, have been posted on the official website of the French Ministry of Justice where they stand to date. 
MIVILUDES, throughout the years, has engaged in numerous campaigns not only against new religious movements targeted as “sects”, but also against small communities of older religions, whether Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical or other. They have even organized raids in communities, arriving with journalists and making strong derogatory comments in order to further their agenda of labelling these communities as “sects”.
MIVILUDES has no judicial mandate to do such an investigation, but it still used its official capacity to impose these unannounced ”visits” and questioning of the various communities.
MIVILUDES is just one part of the French system against religious minorities labelled as “sects”. The French government, wanting to be sure that Criminal law could be used against followers on the basis of their belonging to these religious movements, has put a special unit called the “Sect Mission” into the Ministry of Justice. 
The Sect Mission’s functions are to oversee and “to coordinate and launch public prosecution” against “sects”, essentially putting pressure on general prosecutors throughout the country to bring cases against minority faiths. It is important to note that communications between the Sect Mission and state prosecutors are secret. They are not contained in the case file. Therefore, subjects of an investigation and defendants who are being prosecuted have no access to them. 
A 1998 governmental Circular also appoints a magistrate from the general prosecutor’s office within each appeal court to act as “sect correspondents” for their jurisdiction. They are in charge of pushing anti-sect cases on the public prosecutors below them, and are under the direct supervision of the “Sect Mission” in the Ministry of Justice. Each “sect correspondent” is required to coordinate actions of the judicial authorities with the actions of other government departments involved in “sect” matters. 
Furthermore, this “Sect Mission” is in charge of training and “awareness” programs for the police, state prosecutors, and judges in the National School of Magistrates. These “awareness” programs, far from providing general education on “sectarian deviances”, have consisted of presentations on targeted religions that were totally biased. The seminars delivered to the judges have included specific briefings on targeted groups.
The mountain of positive jurisprudence and official recognitions regarding these groups has been completely ignored. Only negative court decisions were provided whilst decisions from higher judicial authorities overruling the lower court decisions were not provided. Objective and scientific information regarding these groups was not included – neither objective scholars nor experts in the field of religion, clearly exposing the program as an attempt to prejudice the judiciary against minority religious organizations.
Of course, such “awareness” programmes for court officials are in fact ex parte trials, operating to prejudge entire groups, thereby infringing the right of these minorities to be presumed innocent, and contravening the principle of equality since these minorities are not in a position where they can contradict the biased information given to the judges.
In 1996, 7 members of the French parliament published a list of 172 so-called “sects”. This list was then strongly criticized by international Governmental institutions, for being a blacklist of religious movements. In 2005 the French Prime Minister issued a circular stating that this list had no legal value and should no longer be used. However, since that date, the list is still in use by some government officials, and of course by journalists and police. 
In May 2009, the President of MIVILUDES, Mr. Georges Fenech, announced to the media the creation of a repository of records on approximately 600 “sectarian movements” established solely on the basis of denouncements or complaints against minority religious or belief movements. No access to these records has been provided for these targeted groups to respond and correct the record regarding the one-sided accusations and allegations it contains. 
These records are not public but have been made available to judges, prosecutors and other public officials who have to make decisions on this secret basis regarding the targeted minority groups.
In its 2009 Annual Report, MIVILUDES underlines its “constant activity of collaboration with the intelligence, police and judicial investigation services”. Noting that although the details of this activity cannot be made publicly available, and so should remain secret, MIVILUDES affirmed that it had “fully” informed investigators, judges and prosecutors and intends to continue to do so.  
France also created a special police unit for “sects”, called Caimades, which is supposed to coordinate its actions, not only with MIVILUDES, but also with anti-sect associations. You can imagine what an outcry there would be if a special police unit was created for Jews, Muslims, or any other traditional religious denomination!
In addition to that, the French government directly funds “anti-sect” associations, such UNADFI (National Union of Associations for the Defence of the Family and Individuals) or CCMM (Center Against Mental Manipulations). Indeed, these organizations enjoy such minimal private sector support that they could not exist at all without state funding. In 2000, for example, UNADFI received over 1,000,000 Euros from the Prime Minister’s Office and 7 other ministries including the Ministry of Justice. Yet, it received only 12,000 Euros in membership fees and non-government donations. For many years, state funding of these associations has been more than 95 per cent. There is obviously no public support for them. UNADFI uses this funding to mount propaganda campaigns, to solicit legal complaints against religious minorities, and to work with their attorneys to prosecute these complaints in tandem with the office of the prosecutor.
UNADFI also founded a European umbrella organization called FECRIS (European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Sects and Cults). This organization, which presents itself as an NGO, is in fact entirely funded by the French government, which puts in the category of a “GONGO”, a humoristic term used in the UN meaning a GOvernmental Non Governmental Organization. FECRIS spread attacks against religious minorities throughout Europe. Recently, several newspapers in Russia have reported its vice president, Alexander Dvorkin, after he gave derogatory talks on Islam in Russia. What is extremely strange is that even whilst France is a very secular state, and should never fund any religious group or religiously motivated associations, Alexander Dvorkin, Vice President of FECRIS is a member of an anti-sect organization within the Russian Orthodox Church.
This is a very short briefing on the situation on France regarding religious minorities. In addition to that, of course, if I would have time, I would talk to you about the situations of Sikhs children who cannot go to public schools because of their turban, or Muslims, or Christians who do not have the right to wear any religious symbols at school. I could speak to you about the new “secularism chart”, posted in every school a few weeks ago, which has been announced by the French Minister of Education as a way to “snatch” children from any determinism, including the religious beliefs of their parents, as if religion was something that the State should destroy for the sake of the children. But I am sure other speakers will speak about these other aspects of the “French exception”.
However, regarding the so called “sects”, someone could think that this only applies to new groups, small unusual groups, New Age or Satanist or any small religion, and think that “this will only happen to others”. The truth is that MIVILUDES and anti-sect associations have been targeting Catholic communities, Evangelical Christians, Hindu communities, amongst others, as “sects”.  The sect is the religion someone wants to get the rid of. Even Sikhs have recently been reported in a French newspaper as being considered a sect in France. The Mormons, even though they almost had a President of the United States, are also being targeted by UNADFI as a sect.
This way of treating religious movements and religious beliefs has very critical and practical consequences on the lives of people. People loose their jobs because of their “wrong” religious affiliation, people loose the custody of their child because of their religious beliefs, others have even been driven to suicide because of the defamation campaigns orchestrated by anti-sects associations. Some places of worship are vandalized and the vandals think they are protected by the State because they follow the idea that religious groups are bad. People are dragged to court on the basis of their religious affiliation. As I said, it’s very practical and absolutely contrary to any human rights standards.
What you should know, and this will be my conclusion, is that France, although there have been persistent efforts to destroy religious minorities, has failed to do so and has became more and more the target of strong criticism by other countries and International Institutions on this topic. So their last plan, their last chance maybe, is to try to export their model to other countries. And that is what they are trying to do. Belgium, for instance, has adopted the same exception law as the one called the “About Picard” law in France, which is a law against so-called “sects”, and in itself a reworking of the Plaggio law, an Italian law created and used under Mussolini to jail dissident people on the basis of mental manipulation, which had been ruled as being against the Italian constitution in 1981 and removed from the penal code.
Now, France is also trying to export its anti-religious model via the Council of Europe. In 2011, Rudy Salles, a French MP who has been a long-time advocate of anti-sect associations and of MIVILUDES, has been appointed as rapporteur for a report on “protecting minors against sectarian influence”.  For many reasons, and mainly because, of course, everyone wants to protect children from any harm, this trick had been chosen by MIVILUDES in order to utilize the Council of Europe as a place to build an “observatory on sects” at European level, a sort of European MIVILUDES. 
That is also why European people must be educated on how this repression is actually implemented in France, how religious minorities are treated and what it means for the daily lives of members of religious minorities in that country when they are regularly assaulted by this barrage of media, political and social discrimination. They should know what it means, in order to be able to make a fully informed choice when this model is proposed to them.
Thanks you very much and see you soon.



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