They have already spent eight years in a horrible detention camp in the Philippines—which should be deducted from the terms to be served in Prague.
by Massimo Introvigne
Readers of “Bitter Winter” and the scholarly “The Journal of CESNUR” may encounter there several articles on Czech spiritual teacher Jaroslav Dobeš, know to his disciples as Guru Jára. Although the Tantric path he teaches cannot be reduced to sexual practices only (in fact, most of his courses are not about sexuality), one of his practices (called “unhooking”) claims it liberates female disciples who ask for it from the negative attachments of past relationships through a ritual involving sexual intercourse (without ejaculation) with Jára himself. Male disciples can go through a similar ritual called “unthorning” with a senior female initiate in the group—but, for whatever reason, this has not attracted the same media or police interest as the “unhooking.”
As several articles we published document, hundreds of women who went through the “unhooking,” including several I and other scholars interviewed, described it as a positive and liberating experience. A few complained they had felt abused, which set in motion a series of events we have described in detail in our previous articles.
To make a long story short, there are two irreconcilable narratives. For Guru Jára and his disciples, the women who denounced him are vindictive ex-members who fabricated stories denied by the testimonies of several hundred devotees whose experience of the group and the rituals is totally different. For the anti-cultists, the media, the authors of a TV miniseries about the case, the prosecutor, and ultimately Czech courts of law, in the case of seven women Jára’s ritual amounted to sexual abuse. Jára and his main co-worker Barbora Plášková were sentenced to five and a half and five years in jail respectively.
Cases of groups teaching sacred eroticism are always very delicate, and I would not repeat here why I and others have doubts about the fairness of the Czech decision. Those interested in the issue may refer to the articles we already published.
What I will discuss here is a new recent development. At the time of their sentencing, Jára and Barbora were not in the Czech Republic. They were in the Philippines, giving courses to disciples from various countries at the movement’s ashram in Siargao. Under pressure from the Czech authorities, they were arrested in 2015. They claimed that the Czech decision against them had been politically motivated and requested asylum. Pending a decision on their asylum requests, they were detained in the Immigration Detention Center of Bagong Diwa, near Manila, in circumstances international NGOs have described as unsanitary and dangerous. Plášková was separated from her son, who is also in the Philippines, when he was ten months old, and has been able to see him only twice during her eight years of detention.
On December 15, 2015, the Department of Justice of the Philippines rejected Dobeš and Plášková’s request for asylum. On August 1, 2017, and June 4, 2021, the Office of the President rejected the appeals filed by Dobeš and Plášková, who submitted a petition for review to the Supreme Court.
In 2023, the condition in the Bagong Diwa camp further deteriorated, since violent Japanese criminals were detained there, terrorized the other inmates and ran their criminal businesses from detention. The solution the Filipino authorities found to solve a problem that was attracting a good deal of media attention was to deport the non-Japanese detainees back to their country. Guru Jára was thus handled over to the Czech authorities, who deported him to Prague via Taiwan. Barbora is arriving in Prague on August 23. They announced the operation as a great success of the Czech police, although in fact it was made possible by internal Filipino problems.
The Filipino attorney for Jára and Barbora told “Bitter Winter” that what happened was illegal, since a recourse to the Supreme Court was pending and should have prevented the extradition. It seems that political agreements prevailed on the rule of law.
Jára arrived in the Prague jail on August 9, 2023. In the Czech Republic he had been sentenced, as mentioned earlier, to a jail penalty of five and a half years. However, he has been detained in the Philippines for eight years in horrible circumstances that representatives of humanitarian organizations who visited him there have documented and photographed. Under the law of many civilized countries, his eight years of detention in the Philippines would be counted in different ways against the five and a half years of the Czech sentence, meaning he should be released immediately. The same of course applies to Barbora.
According to Czech media, the Ministry of Justice’s inclination is not to consider the years of detention in the Philippines, because Jára and Barbora refused extradition and a detention center for illegal immigrants is not a jail. It would be easy to answer that if Bagong Diwa is not a jail, it is because it is much worse, and that applying for asylum is a human right recognized to all human beings under international law, that the asylum is granted or not. Also, Jára and Plášková had to stay in the camp and were refused a more humane home detention because of the pressures of the Czech Embassy in Manila.
Word games aside, it is clear that both Jára and Plášková have been punished through a detention that extended for a term longer than the one they were sentenced to in the Czech Republic. Justice and fairness would require that they do not spend any further time in jail.
The Czech Republic has an excellent opportunity to prove its commitment to human rights and freedom of religion or belief. It should not succumb to the pressure of anti-cultists and media whose aim is not justice, but the destruction of a spiritual movement.