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Tony Ortega: Is a Scientology front group among those fighting a European effort against ‘sects’?
Go to Tony's website for the complete article. It is important.
Go to Tony's website for the complete article. It is important.
Our man in Paris, Jonny Jacobsen, has a detailed report for us about one of the groups making noise about a European effort to crack down on “sects” that harm children. It’s a timely report, as a debate will be broadcast live about the issue today from Strasbourg — and Jonny’s provided us with a live link to listen in.
Campaigners are fighting a European initiative to protect children from the excesses of “sects,” arguing that it attacks religious freedom.
But not all of them have been clear about who they are — and what stake they have in the issues up for debate.
A small army of pressure groups is campaigning against a report due to go before the 318-strong Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) this week.
French deputy Rudy Salles, who drew up the report, argues that more needs to be done to protect minors from such groups. In his report, “The Protection of minors against excesses of sects,” he suggests measures that could be taken at both the national and the European level.
But his critics say his proposals amount to an attack on religious freedom. They are lobbying hard to persuade PACE members to reject his proposals.
But who are the critics?
One group is the snappily named European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom — Articles (EIFRF).
Its steering committee includes a Catholic priest, an evangelical pastor, a member of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, several academics — and Eric Roux, the main spokesman for Scientology in France.
No surprise here: Scientology has long made common cause with other religious movements where they feel they have a shared interest.
They have in the past teamed up with other controversial movements such as the Unification Church (or Moonies), and with any members of more mainstream religions prepared to share a platform with them.
So no mystery here: Roux’s allegiance to Scientology is clearly stated at the EIFRF website.
Others however are a little more coy.
An organisation calling itself the Central-European Religious Freedom Institute (CERFI) is another group opposing Salles’ initiative.
CERFI, based in the Hungarian capital Budapest, describes itself as a “non-profit organization for inter-religious cooperation and dialogue.”
On its own website, the Institute is clear about the need to be up-front in its conduct, stating:
“Founder, President, Executive director, Honorary Board Members and all Editors and Contributors are obliged to be impartial in their work and are not to use the website and the blog of the Institute for promoting religious communities to which they belong. In their work they will always keep in mind the purposes of the Institute as given above.”
That makes it all the more surprising that while it posts sympathetic coverage of Scientology — among other movements –– it doesn’t actually mention its links with the group.
The Institute’s president and founding member is Jura Nanuk, a Croatian photographer now based in the Hungarian capital Budapest.
At the website he describes himself as a human rights activist, a member of the Croatian Religious Liberty Association (who gave him an award in 2010) and a Vedic Ambassador. And he is happy to promote his book on Hinduism there too.
But what he does not find any space for is any reference to his long association with Scientology.
Jura Nanuk’s Budapest photography business pops up on a 2004 WISE directory at Kristi Wachter’s database collating information from Scientology’s own publications. (WISE of course is the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises.)
And details posted by a researcher, “Scn.hun,” at the Ex-Scientologist Message Board back in February 2012 suggest that Scientology’s connection to the Institute goes even deeper.
Scn.hun was responding to a report at Hungarian news website kuruc.info about the Institute.
The report named Nanuk and Tibor Krebsz as founding members, idenifying Krebsz as the leader of the Unification Church (Moonies) in Hungary. It describes Nanuk as a Hindu — a reasonable conclusion given the contents of the Institute’s website.
Scn.hun pointed out that Nanuk’s name features in the WISE directory for Central Europe.
And the website domain for CERP itself is registered at 1031 Budapest, Nánási ut 1/c — the official address of the Church of Scientogy there, and of WISE Central Europe.
So it seems reasonable to ask: who exactly does the Institute represent?
Is it just Nanuk and Krebsz, Scientology and the Moonies? Or can ordinary citizens concerned about religious freedom also get involved?
We wrote to Nanuk asking why he wasn’t more open about his background in Scientology — and for more details as to who exactly the Institute represents.
ADDITIONAL: We’ve not heard back from Nanuk since we sent him our second message on Monday — but we did hear from Péter Bonyai, a former Scientologist in Hungary who is now one of its critics there.
“I know him personally,” he told us when we asked about Nanuk.
Bonyai, who posts as “Thalkirst” over at Ex-Scientologist Message Board, confirmed that Nanuk was a Scientologist — and not just any Scientologist: he was able to confirm some of the other allegations that Scn.hun had made about him.
“As far as I know, he is still in the Sea Org. He was the Membership Chief WISE Central Europe in 2012, and as far as I know, he is still on that,” he added, pointing to his entry in that WISE Central Europe weblink.
“Before that, he was working as a volunteer translator for Translations Unit (around 2000), and then he was recruited to be on staff.”
Finally, Bonyai sent over a fascinating screen shot. “Some additional info on our human rights champion,” he explained.
It shows a post from Nanuk ordering a Hungarian Scientologist to shut down a closed Facebook group he had set up to share classified ads among fellow believers. Why? Because the group is using a trademarked word, “Scientologist,” for business purposes. The very idea!
You’ll see that Nanuk signs himself off as Membership Chief WISE, CEE (Central and Eastern Europe, presumably). The attached post, Bonyai added, dates from January 18, 2103.