France: Assembly Passes Extreme Anti-Cult Law, Making Brainwashing a Crime (June 22, 2000)

by Massimo Introvigne

A new, and really extreme, anti-cult draft law dated 30th May 2000 and unveiled on June 6, authored by MP Ms Catherine Picard and signed by all French Socialist Members of the National Assembly, was approved unanimously on June 22 in the National Assembly and now awaits approval by the Senate to become effective. The Socialist Party is the party of France's Prime Minister. The National Assembly, if anything, made the draft law worse, by changing the perimeter from a school, hospital or similar where cults cannot operate from 100 to 200 meters (making it impossible for cults to operate at all almost everywhere), allowing cities to deny building permissions to cults and allowing private anti-cult organizations to promote and become parties in court cases against cults. These amendments were approved against the opinion of the government itself, and elicited strong reactions by human rights organizations and the mainline churches (Catholic and Protestant). As a result, Justice Minister Elizabeth Guigou (no friend of the "cults" and author of an earlier strong-worded anti-cult circular letter to courts) called fopr a "pause" and a re-examination before the law is approved by the Senate. In the French Senate anti-cult feelings are stronger than in the Assembly; the government, however, should be able to delay the vote.
The draft law contains 11 articles derived in part from several former proposals, including the one Senator About.

The main features of the draft law are as follows: 

1. Article 1 provides for the dissolution of a corporation or association whose activities "have the goal or effect to create or to exploit the state of mental or physical dependance of people who are participating in its activities" and which infrige "human rights and fundamental liberties", when this association, or it managers (or de facto managers) have been convicted "several times" (how many times is not specified) for offenses such as fraud, illegal practice of medicine, and several other criminal offenses. The introduction makes it clear that this combination of mind control, infringement of "human rights", and "several" criminal convictions is the definition of a "sect" or "cult" now regarded as legally workable.
The procedure of dissolution is judicial and can be introduced in front of a civil court by the local prosecutor or by any person which has an interest in the matter (including, apparently, anti-cultists).

2. Articles 2 to 5 create a corporate criminal liability for corporations or associations falling under Article 1 in cases where only personal liability existed.

3. Article 6 is punishing any person which participates to the reconstitution of a corporation or association which has been dissolved with 3 year prison term and a Francs 300,000 fine. Article 7 calls for the renewed dissolution of an association which has been refounded after a first dissolution.

4. Article 8 forbids the set up of any offices, seat, church, advertisement or advertising activity by sects (i.e. the associations and groups defined as per Article 1) in the perimeter of 200 m (as amended by the Assembly) from a hospital, a retirement house, a public or private institution of prevention, curing or caring, or any school from 2 to 18 year old students. If this interdiction is violated, the sentence is 2 years of imprisonment and a Francs 200,000 fine and the corporation or association can be condemned itself. Cults or sects (as defined above) may also be denied building permissions or licenses by the cities.

5. Article 9 is punishing any promotion or propaganda done by an association or group falling under Article 1 "intended for young people" (age not defined) under penalty of a Franc 50,000 fine, applicable to both individuals and associations.

6. Article 10 is establishing the new crime of mental manipulation "Mental manipulation" (in fact "brainwashing", although this term is not used) is defined as any activity or activities "with the goal or the effect to create or to exploit the state of mental or physical dependence of people who are participating in the group's activities and to infringe human rights and fundamental liberties; to exert repeated pressions in order to create or exploit this state of dependence and to drive the person, against its will or not, to an act or an abstention with is heavily prejudicial to her". The penalty is 2 years of imprisonment and a fine of Francs 200,000 If the victim is particularly weak due to its age, illness etc.. the penalty is 5 year and Francs 500,000. Following the amendments by the Assembly, court cases may be brought by anti-cult organizations, who will participate as parties in the case and may collect damages from the cults.

Penalties will apply to associations as well as to individuals.