Institutional discrimination of minority religions; Italy and Romania

Unconstitutional practices – witch-hunts in the media – and social marginalization: stigmatization of minority religions and spiritual movements.

As minority religions and spiritual and esoteric movements gain momentum in the modern world, so do those who criticise them, often helped by sensationalist media and institutionalized interests. The large propagation of misinformation, based on interpretations, rumours and exaggerations, often lead to marginalization and persecution of spiritual practitioners. One would expect modern democratic countries to effectively mediate such discriminations. Instead, authorities themselves often fall into a trap of sensationalistic threats proliferated by media and traditionalists.

The Italian Anti-sect Squad (SAS) was founded in 2006 and carries out numerous attacks on spiritual movements. The very decree of its creation is unconstitutional as it depends on private interest groups. SAS systematically fails to present substantial evidence for the police operations they perpetrate and has been questioned repeatedly by Italian Members of Parliament. However the Italian government has continued to fund and support the squad.

In Italy and other European democracies there are attempts to re-introduce the “plagio laws”, created by Mussolini to stop unwanted groups in society, by accusing them of “mind manipulation”.

Romania is another example where totalitarian practices, especially in the field of conscience and belief, prove to persist, despite the continuous EU efforts and critique in the European Commission’s CVM reports.

“Operation Christ” was the code name for the notorious attack of the Romanian police against yoga practitioners. Three hundred heavily armed policemen from the anti-terror squad attacked the yoga school MISA. During this operation, in its aftermath, Romanian authorities severely breached the fundamental rights of the Romanian yoga practitioners. The case remains unaddressed and violations in the case continue.

“Operation Christ” is the biggest police action in post-communist Romania, just like Italy’s biggest police attack ever which was targeted at the spiritual school Damanhur.

Authorities justify the attacks on spiritual movements by accusations such as terrorism, human trafficking, sexual corruption, and para-military extremism, however no evidence is presented in support of such allegations. They seem rather based on information from media campaigns and private conservative “anti-sect” interest groups.

Politicians, experts, human rights activists, victims and previous “anti-sect” activists all contribute to a vivid discussion on the stigmatization of minority religions and spiritual practitioners in Europe today.