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French Court Finds Church of Scientology Guilty Of Breaching Privacy Laws

A French court fined the Church of Scientology for violating privacy rights of former members but threw out charges of attempted fraud and false advertising. The decision reflects France's tough and controversial stance against so-called religious sects.

The Paris chapter of the Church of Scientology says it will appeal the fine of about $7,300 and a separate fine of about $1,800 against the group's local president, Marc Walter.

French prosecutors say the Church of Scientology harassed former members of the group long after they left the organization.

The court did not impose the strongest penalty sought by prosecutors - that of dissolving the Paris Scientology chapter - but would consider such action if the chapter faces similar charges in the future.

According to a spokeswoman for Scientology, Gaetane Asselin, the court's decision represents a partial victory for the organization.

"The main accusation of fraud and false publicity was relaxed," she said. "So it means we were found not guilty of any of these accusations, which is very good for us. Because the attorney of the opposition has been trying to prove for years that is what we are doing, and one more court admitted it has nothing to do with us."

The Church of Scientology says it has about 40,000 members in France and millions worldwide. It was founded in the United States by science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard.

Critics say Scientology is not a religion, but a dangerous scam. The church rejects such accusations.

The organization will face even tougher scrutiny under a new French law that sets stricter controls on religious groups.

Lucia Salazar, who works with a private group that is fighting Scientology, says her organization will continue its efforts to dissolve the church.

Mrs. Salazar supports the new French law on sects. She says it allows victims of so-called cults to fight for reparations. But some human rights organizations, religious groups and the U.S. government have expressed concern the French law may infringe on religious freedom.