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Court rejects appeal against Scientology center in Moscow
(AP, May 18, 2001)

MOSCOW (AP) -- A Moscow court has dismissed an appeal by prosecutors seeking to shut down a Russian office of the Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology, the group's lawyer said Friday.

Prosecutors had accused the group of conducting illegal business activities, the Interfax news agency reported.

Moscow's northeastern circuit court rejected the charges against the Humanitarian Hubbard Center in a ruling Tuesday, but prosecutors appealed, said lawyer Galina Krylova. The appeal was turned down Thursday.

The case was among several filed against foreign-based religious groups in Russia in recent years, including a lengthy procedure against the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Bowing to pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church, Russia's parliament in 1997 passed a law restricting activities of religious groups not considered traditional for Russia. The law guarantees the rights of Jewish, Muslim and Orthodox churches as representing the main religious faiths of the country, and requires strict registration rules for others.

"Freedom of conscience should be a higher value, regardless of whether you like a religion or not. Our government apparently thinks differently," Krylova said.

Prosecutors first moved against the Hubbard Center in 1998 on accusations the group caused psychological harm to its members, but the case was dismissed when no victims could be found, Krylova said.

Authorities later filed tax evasion charges that were also dismissed, she said. In 1999, prosecutors alleged names that appeared on the group's registration documents were found to have no relation to the center. The center said it corrected the documents.

The Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard and teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems.


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