In the spring of 2015 Soteria International visited the Buddhist Tibetan organization Ogyen Kunzang Choling which is situated in the middle of Brussels.
Their story is impressive due to the fact that it has taken almost 2 decades for police to conclude their investigation. Also, their case follows the same line that Soteria International has noticed before; a pattern of behaviour towards new spiritual groups in our society.
It is of no matter that Buddhism and Yoga are millenary traditions, spiritual practices for those wishing to follow their hearts, but in some parts of the world they are perceived as new spiritual movements. Ogyen Kunzang Chöling (OKC) is a spiritual organisation, following the Buddhist Tibetan tradition. OKC was qualified as a “sect” by the Parliamentary Commission of inquiry on cults, in France in 1995 and then, in Belgium, in 1997.
As a result of this unsubstantial qualification, very strong mediatised judiciary investigations started in 1997 against this association, which in order to show their innocence, had to release numerous documents proving so.
The accusations are repeating the same history of other cases where factual bases are missing, thus falling into illegality and where the organisations bring numerous elements that come against the charges of the prosecutors. We will try to emphasis in the following lines some of these typical unfounded accusations as well as the true facts regarding these situations. The OKC centres are accused of not being affiliated to a genuine Tibetan Buddhist tradition and of “sect deviation”.
Nevertheless, the association made public documents attesting that they were recognised by Tibetan spiritual personalities who were following the development of the centre: Kyabjé Dudjom Rinpotché (trad. Fr), Kyabjé Pénor Rinpotché, Shétchen Rabjam Rinpotché, including Dalai Lama’s official cabinet (Kashag).
The association was accused of taking the children out of school, indoctrinating and separating them from their parents by force.
The actual situation which was proved to be true, is that OKC created a community which is not mandatory for its members, being just an alternative for the ones who want to opt for this life style. Here was offered education of the children in a boarding school environment. Yet, after a detailed survey and inquiry, the private schools from Château de Soleil were recognised by the French academic authority. More than that, the children were free to live together with their parents (which was the case for almost half of them) or to be visited by them and even to quit the school when they wanted.
A social inquiry report requested by the Children's Judge from Digne, in 1996, refuted the accusations and showed that there was no danger in this educative system. The decision taken by the Children's Judge in 1996 was reconfirmed in January 1997 and then in October 1999.
The respective report also shows that the primary and secondary schooling level was over the average and an important degree of the children’s development and serenity could be observed, as well as a big opening to the world.
Another usual accusation addressed to spiritual communities, which was also present in the OKC case, was the accusation of financial malpractice because of the financial support offered by members of the association for the organisation.
The financial support was offered following the association status and it was considered as support to maintain the lives of 15 people who lived in the centres from France and Belgium.
In this respect, the organisation ordered a financial counter-expertise that showed the errors of the financial expert designated by the judge. The financial counter-expertise underlined the lack of irregularities in the accounts of the association or of the societies led by its members.
According to the prosecution, the association members were accused that their “criminal organisation” aimed to create and maintain a “harmful sectarian organization”, without this concept being defined by the prosecution or listed as an offense in the Penal Code.
In Belgium, soon a court case is starting after a very long investigation procedure.
After a very long investigation (more than 18 years !), the investigation court recognised that the reasonable time had elapsed but refused to take appropriate measures to solve the situation and left the tribunal and courts in charge of the case.
It means in practice that this question of reasonable time will only be dealt with in the main case and will take some more years.
In other words if people are found innocent they will not have any remedy for the violation. The Supreme Court maintained this position, despite the jury's prudence of the Human rights courts which already condemned Belgium for such practice by deciding that once the reasonable time violation is recognised by the court, the same court must take appropriate measures against the violation and solve it, and not leave this to another court.
The OKC case is another example when religious practices are presented as being criminal.
This current of opinion started in Belgium in 1997 with the parliamentary commission against cult, which drafted a list of so called 'cults" and which created lots of stigmatisation against a long list of religious minorities.
Soteria International took position regarding the OKC case during the OSCE/Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2015.
Here you can find Soteria International intervention during the WORKING SESSION 15: Fundamental freedoms 2 - Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.