Request for legal dissolution of a sect – a first in Belgium

In the case of a unilateral breaking of a rental contract for premises opposing the association Sahaja Yoga to the Cultural and Congress Centre of Woluwé-Saint-Pierre (Brussels), the Centre’s lawyer demanded that the " sect " be legally dissolved on the basis that its activities were allegedly damaging to public order and contrary to standards of behaviour. No hearing date has yet been fixed.

On the 28th September 2000, Mr Anthony Headlam sent a fax to the Centre reserving a hall for the 26th October. On the 2nd October both parties signed a rental contract for the auditorium. However a denunciation from an anti-sect group was to hinder the normal process of exercise of freedom of expression of this group, which at that time, had not been the object of any court case in Belgium.

Denounced by an anti-sect group …

On the 26th October, date of the conference, the Cultural Centre received a copy of a letter sent the same day to the mayor by the CIGS (Contacts and Information on Sectarian Groups). This letter recalled the inclusion of the group Sahaja Yoga as a sect in the French parliamentary report entitled " Sects in France " and also referred to its mention in the list of 189 religious movements targeted by the parliamentary commission on sects in Belgium.

In this letter, various accusations were set out against Sahaja Yoga: influence of the guru on the group’s members close to hypnotism, problems with child custody, court cases in various European countries (without mentioning any decision in these cases), etc.

The Cultural Centre immediately contacted Mr Headlam and unilaterally terminated the rental contract, just a few hours before the conference, on the basis that the conference was to be organised by a sect. The decision was immediately confirmed in writing and justified on the basis that " the activity that you intend to organise within our building is a recruitment method by an organisation whose practices might harm individuals and children in particular (see the judgement of Rennes/France of 16 July 1992 and confirmed by the appeal of February 1993) ".

On the evening of 26th October the municipality police were called to the Cultural Centre and physically prevented access to individuals wishing to attend the conference that had been advertised by posters and advertisements.

As a consequence, the association represented by its attorney Inès Wouters, decided to take the Centre to court for defaulting on a rental contract.

Request for Sahaja Yoga to be dissolved

Basing himself on the parliamentary report on sects of 28th April 1997 - a report which has not been approved by Belgium’s House of Representatives - the attorney of the Cultural Centre concluded that the unilateral default of the rental contract was justified by the fact that the activities of Sahaja Yoga are allegedly damaging to public order and contrary to accepted standards of behaviour. He went on to quote a four-page witness statement. This testimony was delivered behind closed doors and was not checked but was published in the parliamentary report on sects. The witness was accusing the movement of practicing self-hypnosis, mental conditioning of members, illegal exercise of medicine, educating children in ashrams, proselytising, arranging mass marriages, etc.

He went on to add – wrongly – that the Belgian parliamentary report had allegedly ranked this " sect " as the most dangerous.

In his conclusion, he requested the legal dissolution of the association Sahaja Yoga.

Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly for " sects "

It has often been said and written in Belgium and France that freedom of worship is completely guaranteed to religious sects and that therefore they have no legitimate reason to complain. However when these groups are occasionally refused the exercising of their freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, it is silently passed over. The recent and previous problems experienced by Sahaja Yoga are just one example among many that a number of " sects " experience, although never having been convicted of any illegal activities.

In 1992, the rental contact for two public conference halls in Brussels where Shri Mataji, the founder of the Sahaja Yoga movement, was to hold a conference, was unilaterally broken one week before the event. An alternative location was found, however.

In 1994, the association had to change hall three times to be able to arrange a conference for their spiritual leader. In a letter dated 25th July 1994 the Royal Crown Hotel in Brussels notified one of the conference organisers that the Belgian Brigade of Surveillance and Research (BSR/ BOB) had visited them to warn them against the activities of the Sahaja Yoga. On the third time, the association decided not to publicise the address of the conference to avoid one more rental contract cancellation and organised transport from a rendezvous point advertised on posters and invitations.

In 1996 the mayor denied the Sahaja Yoga the use of a public hall which he had previously granted.

In September 1996 the association was refused halls for yoga lessons because of negative articles in the Flemish press.

In March 1997 there were new hindrances in obtaining a public hall at Kalmthout. In the same year, the association was refused a hall at Mechelen.

Other halls that Sahaja Yoga had rented for years for courses in Brussels were refused to the movement over the past few years.

Behind these constraints on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression that date back to well before the creation of an enquiry commission on sects, there are often interventions from anti-sect groups or the Belgian Brigade of Surveillance and Research, one of the official sources of information of the Belgian parliamentary report on sects. In 1993, the Greek press denounced the surveillance by the Greek intelligence services of around 60 groups designated as "sects" (Eleftherotypia, 5th August 1993*). In Belgium and France, nobody reacted against similar practices.

(*) For more information, see the magazine "Religious Discrimination and Intolerance in Greece" (Issue 1-2/ 1994) published by Human Rights Without Frontiers.