On May 15, the Court of Marseille rejected FECRIS’s motion to dismiss, and sentenced the anti-cult organization to pay the corresponding expenses.
by Massimo Introvigne
Readers of Bitter Winter are familiar with the wrongdoings of FECRIS, the European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Cults and Sects, an umbrella organization federating anti-cult movements in different countries and whose main financial support comes from the French government. FECRIS spreads throughout Europe and beyond the faulty and pseudo-scientific anti-cult ideology.
It has also cooperated for years with the bloody repression of groups stigmatized as “cults” by the totalitarian regimes of Russia and China. Since the democratic Maidan Revolution and the first Russian invasion of Ukrainian territories in 2014, the Russian branch of FECRIS has actively supported the aggression against Ukraine. It has fabricated for it a main tool of anti-Ukrainian propaganda, the false claim that the Maidan Revolution was organized by “cults,” that “cults” dominate the Ukrainian government, and are exported by Ukraine into Russia to destabilize the Putin regime. While after the second invasion of Ukraine of 2022, FECRIS has tried to separate itself from Russian anti-cultists, and hide its past cooperation with its Russian branch, the latter had started its anti-Ukrainian campaign in 2014 and even earlier after the first Maidan of 2004, not in 2022. It has continued it during the long years when the most notorious Russian anti-cultist, Alexander Dvorkin, was Vice President of FECRIS, from 2009 to 2021.
FECRIS continuously spreads hate speech against the groups it singles out as “cults.” FECRIS leaders in conferences and interviews have called for example the Church of Scientology “a cancer” and quoted approvingly a definition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as “a paradise of pedophiles.” FECRIS member associations have been sentenced repeatedly for defamation, and FECRIS itself lost a landmark case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Hamburg, Germany, in 2020, where it was found guilty of 18 counts of untrue factual allegations. It tried to falsely claim that it had won the case in public, while admitting it had lost it in its closed-door meetings. FECRIS asked, and partially obtained, to have its legal expenses in the disastrous Hamburg case paid by French taxpayers through the funds it receives from the French government.
Not all turn the other cheek to FECRIS’ aggressions. On September 10, 2022, an NGO with consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) called Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience (CAP-LC, Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience) summoned FECRIS before the Court of Marseille to obtain its dissolution, based on the accusation that it carries out illegal activities. (Paradoxically, FECRIS also has a consultative status at ECOSOC, although leading scholars of religions, including Ukrainian academics who remember the long anti-Ukrainian activities by its Russian branch, have asked that such status be withdrawn).
According to a summary by the Court of Marseille in an order dated May 15, 2023, in its writ of summons CAP-LC “recalls that it [CAP-LC] was founded for the defense of religious minorities and new religions, which FECRIS denounces as ‘cults.’ It relies on article 3 of the law of 1901 on associations, which provides for the nullity of association which pursues an illicit goal, and of its article 7, which offers to any interested party the possibility of acting in dissolution for this reason. CAP-LC maintains that its social object of promoting religious freedom is threatened by the illegal activities of FECRIS, which is linked to the Russian power and to a radical fringe of the Orthodox Church, and through one of its affiliates participates in the installation of a Christian Orthodox religious hegemony and the discrimination against religious and spiritual minorities. It bases its request for dissolution on the dissemination of discriminatory and defamatory statements in 2006, 2009 and at conferences in 2015 and 2016 against minority religious movements and the assimilation of several other organizations and movements to cults. CAP-LC indicates that these remarks were made by prominent members of FECRIS. It maintains that the associations belonging to FECRIS and their members trivialize a pseudo-legal-scientific discourse aiming at assimilating religious minorities to cultic deviances. It recalls a conviction of FECRIS for defamation by a German court in 2020, and the multiple judicial condemnations in France from 1997 to 2015 against associations linked to FECRIS, and therefore part of its international network, notably UNADFI and GEMPPI. It denounces the misuse of subsidies that FECRIS has received from the French Prime Minister for the organization of a conference in 2020, which was carried out online and whose funds were used to pay for the court cases it lost.”
On January 13, 2013, FECRIS filed a motion to dismiss the case based on two arguments. The first was that CAP-LC as an association had not been attacked by FECRIS and therefore lacked legal interest or standing to sue the same FECRIS. In fact, FECRIS even argued that the nullity of an association contract is a “relative nullity” that can only be claimed by a member of the association itself.
Second, FECRIS relied on the statute of limitations of the action, in that it was brought more than five years after the incorporation of FECRIS in 1994.
On May 15, the Court of Marseille rejected FECRIS’ motion to dismiss and sentenced it to pay Euro 1,500 to CAP-LC as contribution to its expenses.
On the first claim, CAP-LC’s alleged lack of legal interest, the Court observed that CAP-LC is a French association in good standing whose statutory aim is the protection of religious liberty. “It follows from the combination of articles 3 and 7 of the law of July 1, 1901, the Court stated, that any interested party can request the judicial pronouncement of the dissolution of an association when it has an illicit object or contrary to the laws. The plaintiff denounces a list of the facts imputed to FECRIS that are likely to undermine its object insofar as they are against freedom of conscience and religious freedom. In support of its claims, CAP-LC provides documents emanating from FECRIS members, or reproducing remarks it claims were made during FECRIS conferences. It will be up to the trial judge to rule on the proof of these facts and their influence on the validity of the association’s purpose. If they were accepted as true, they would be likely to damage the statutory object of CAP-LC. It follows that, at the stage of admissibility, the organization CAP-LC has a legal interest in acting.”
On the second claim, concerning the statute of limitations, the Court noted that in a case of dissolution the date when the prescription period starts is not the date of incorporation of the association, but the date of the last unlawful act committed. The court observed that CAP-LC claimed that FECRIS acted illegally in 2018 and 2020, and that some of its illegal acts were continuing at the time of the summons. As a consequence, the statute of limitations does not apply.
FECRIS has lost a first round of this important case. We know that in democratic countries the independence of the judiciary is a fundamental principle. We also know that the judiciary operates in a political and social context, which in France is hostile to movements stigmatized as “cults” and supportive of anti-cult organizations such as FECRIS.
Yet, the decision of May 15, in the first case when FECRIS is in court in France as a defendant and one in which its very existence is at risk, is a positive development. It recognized that, “if the facts were accepted as true” (and they are supported by a massive documentation), they would prove that FECRIS is an organization threatening freedom of religion or belief.