Sect leader accused of slavery

Brno, Czech Republic - The bizarre activities of a religious group in Brno came to light last week when police announced the conclusion of their investigation into a Grail Movement sect leader, Jiří Adam, who had been using female pensioners as slave laborers, some of them for nearly 20 years.

“I’ve never seen a case like this,” said detective Oldřich Kříž, who took part in the investigation. “The women looked like concentration camp victims.”

Adam now faces up to 12 years in prison, but hasn’t been arrested as he is currently in a Břeclav hospital after suffering a stroke last month, and is reportedly on life support. “He has been here for almost a month, but we cannot supply any information about our patients,” said Dr. Miroslav Čermák, echoing the hospital’s decision against making public statements on the case.

Roughly 20 years ago, Adam assumed the position of a sect spiritual leader, naming his wife as “queen.” The couple lived with five other women who gave all their pensions to Adam in exchange for spiritual meetings and alleged healing powers.

In 2000, Adam had his followers sign all their property over to him and forced the women into hard labor on at least two of his properties in and around Brno. Among other manual tasks, the women worked as bricklayers, building a luxurious home for Adam and paved roads in his vineyards.

According to police reports, any insubordination was punished by a cut in rations, which had been meager to start with, lacking any meat or other nutritional food. One of the women died in 2006 without arousing any suspicion, and was buried in a grave reportedly owned by Adam.

The Brno sect’s philosophy was based on the message of the international Grail Movement, which was founded in the late 1940s in Germany and currently has more than 20,000 members, according to the organization’s Web site.

“The teachings of the Grail Movement concentrate on the effort to become a better independent human being,” said Artur Zatloukal, leader of the Grail Movement in the Czech Republic, who is quick to distance the group from Adam’s activities.

“We believe that each person is responsible for his or her own actions and thus any sectarian tendencies go against our teachings,” he said.

However, this is not the first case of abuse conducted by a breakaway group connected with the Grail Movement. The 2007 child abuse case involving 33-year-old Barbora Škrlová, who claimed to be a young girl before escaping to Norway, where she posed as a young boy, also involved the Grail Movement.

“These breakaway groups contradict our beliefs and we do not condone their actions,” said Zatloukal. “We knew about them because they contacted us, but could not forbid or abolish them. We just refused to deal with them.”

Police began investigating Adam’s case last November. One of the sect members had refused to obey Adam, and, as punishment, he took her to a psychiatric ward. There, she told her story to doctors, who quickly alerted police.

Because Adam suffered a stroke just as the investigation was being concluded, the case has been put on hold until he is fit to stand trial.

Word on the street

Adam’s Brno neighbors had long suspected unusual activities, but failed to alert police. “They all behaved very strangely. We knew that Adam was abusing lonely people,” said one neighbor named Jiří, adding that Adam openly admitted to being a sect leader, once telling him, “In our group I am God.”

“He was the boss who ruled all, and his wife was the queen,” Jiří said. “But having a wife did not stop Adam from having fun with the other women. When they left their windows open we’d hear all that was going on,” said Jiří.

Others say that they did not suspect anything. “Sometimes we’d see old women working even in the height of summer heat, but otherwise they seemed fine,” said another neighbor. “We were even glad to have them here. At one point it looked like Russian mafia had offered to buy the house, where the sect lived, and when Adam refused, we were very glad to have him as a neighbor. He was quiet and did not bother anyone.”