[JURIST] A French judge on Monday ordered the Spiritual Association of the Church of Scientology (ASES - Celebrity Centre) [church website, in French] to appear before the Paris Magistrates Court [official website, in French] to face criminal charges. ASES has been unsuccessfully prosecuted in French courts before, and it along with an affiliated bookstore and seven church members must now defend against charges of organized fraud and the illegal practice of pharmacy. Prosecutors had asked the judge to drop the case, which originated in 1998 with a complaint from a woman who had spent about 200,000 francs ($42,600 US) on classes, books, medication and an electrometer [church backgrounder] after Scientologists stopped her on a Paris street and offered her a free personality test. Another individual and a French pharmacists' association later became involved in the case. AFP has more. Le Monde has local coverage, in French.
In 2002, a French court ordered the Church of Scientology [church website; JURIST news archive] to pay a fine [AP report] for failing to protect members' personal information, but acquitted the organization of attempted fraud and false advertising. The court refused to dissolve the Paris branch of the church, as prosecutors had requested [BBC report], but France's judicial system has not yet recognized Scientology as a religion. That trial followed a report released by a French government committee in 2000 recommending that Scientology be banned [BBC report] as a "totalitarian" sect that disrupts public order. Scientology, founded by American science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, has come under increasing scrutiny in other European countries as well. Last year, the German interior minister suggested a ban on Scientology [JURIST report] as "an organization that is not compatible with the constitution." Also last year, a Belgian prosecutor who completed a 10-year investigation of the church's activities said Scientology should be classified as a criminal organization [JURIST report].