The text has been extracted from an article published by CICNS, which can be accessed in it's original language (French) here.
The case of the “presumed guru" Robert Lé Dinh, as the media have called him, is indicative of how judicial affairs treat “sects" in France.
For more than twenty years, Robert Lé Dinh led a community of roughly 20 people, first in the Lot-et-Garonne, then in Ariège, before becoming the subject of a complaint and being placed in custody on September 5, 2007 and, two days later, put under review and placed in pre-trial detention. The case started in April 2007, when two of his former disciples—followers—a couple who were civil servants and who had joined the group from its inception in 1984, denounced his actions and filed a complaint with the GIRONS (Ariège) police. Born in 1959 in Villeneuve (Lot-et-Garonne), the son of a Buddhist worker of Vietnamese origin and a French Catholic mother, is said to have received a divine message from Christ in 1982 making him a "servant" or "the third Messiah" (NouvelObs).
Following this denunciation, Robert Lé Dinh was accused of "rape," "sexual assault," including on minors, "mental hypnosis" (NouvelObs), of "manipulation and influence" (La Dépêche). One of the main complainants, Isabelle Lorenzato (along with her husband), claimed to have been raped for 22 years by Robert Lé Dinh.
UNADFI (l’Union Nationale des Associations de Defense des Familles et de L’individu or the National Union of Associations for the Defense of Families and the Individual), a civil party, accompanied several former followers of the group to trial. Due to the About-Picard law, this association was allowed to be a civil party and now systematically takes part in all trials where the association itself deems it to be a sectarian context. It is supported by MIVILUDES (the Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances) (recall that Catherine Picard, President of UNADFI, sits on the Board of Directors of the MIVILUDES), of which one of the objectives is to obtain juridical knowledge on the About-Picard law (until presently, the only case which allowed the application of this act was that of the Neophare, just after the vote which included huge coverage in 2001) which permitted the fraudulent notion of "mental manipulation" to be applied to "sects." The Robert Lé Dinh case was, therefore, immediately placed in a context of psychosis of the anti-sects. It wasn't more than a 'legal case,' but the French public authorities invented a contemporary imaginary social torture trial (see history of the French antisectes fight). This deceit has been strongly condemned by Robert Lé Dinh’s lawyers (see our commentary on the trial at first instance).
In the first instance Robert Lé Dinh was sentenced to “15 years in prison for rape, sexual assaults on minors, and abuse of weakness."
Twelve years of imprisonment was required by the General Counsel, Cécile Deprade, who had requested 10 and 12 years in prison in the first instance. She stressed that she did not make a call "against a cult", a "philosophy," or "belief" in respect of "two founding principles of freedom of conscience and religious freedom" but against "a man." The Attorney general said he was "convinced that Robert Lé Dinh committed the crimes and misdemeanours for which he was charged" and that he has "subjected his victims to psychological subjection". (NouvelObs)
The affirmation of the General Counsel not to make a call against a "cult" should be seriously questioned. Can we ignore the impact of the presence of the UNADFI (with the implicit approval of MIVILUDES) on discussions at the trial, of which the objective is the fight against sects and which has been declared a public utility? Can it sweep Mr. Martial’s (Robert Lé Dinh’s lawyer) remarks away on the content of the discussions: "We distrust the devastating idea of the sect and the sectarian influence, which is a commercial fund" (BBC)? Can we ignore that the notion of "psychological subjection," is the legal translation of the concept of "mental manipulation" introduced in the About-Picard law specifically designed to combat the so-called sectarian movements? Did Cécile Deprade not use a classic trick: pretending to not do what she clearly was doing, which she shouldn’t do? If the judges have consistently refused (except in the case of the Neophare) to use the notion of "psychological subjection," inapplicable because it is undefined and discriminatory, since, in fact, it is reserved for groups referred to as "sects", what could push the prosecutors to repeatedly refer to the law in corresponding court cases? Why do the first (judges) show a lucidity that the latter (prosecutors) are struggling to demonstrate, when they attended the same school? Must we, once again, invoke the non-independence of the Prosecutor's office?
The Assize Court in the Haute-Garonne finally convicted Robert Lé Dinh to 10 years in prison for "aggravated sexual abuse." Much "to the disappointment of the civil parties, dismissed aggravated rapes and aggravated abuse of weakness" (Romandie).
"On the side of Robert Lé Dinh’s lawyers, the dominant feeling is that of “accomplishment.” "The idea of a sect is now abandoned, it does not exist. There is no longer the idea of cult, both with respect to mental manipulation to obtain sexual favors or to get money," said Mr. Martial for whom this case is "no longer that of a guru but that of the illusion of a sect" (La Dépêche).
Although, at the beginning of the case, certain members of the media remained cautious of one another’s versions of the story (La Dépêche), the processing of information rapidly deteriorated—in the sense of a primarily anti-sect perspective.
We (CICNS) have, in particular, criticised the indecency of France 2 and LCP which provided a forum without any contradiction or criticism of the Lorenzato couple, between the trial of first instance and appeal, a program on "sects." Isabelle Lorenzato, after having been taken by the hand by UNADFI (we could even say "manipulated"?), has played the role of 'speaker of the anti-sectarinism' according to Mr. Martial, Robert Lé Dinh’s lawyer (Romandie). The media doing so, become civil parties in disguise. This is not their role, especially on public television channels, not to mention the way in which this type of program degrades journalistic ethical principles. In addition, the accusations of rape made by Isabelle Lorenzato were not accepted by the Court of Appeals. So, despite her "terrible disappointment" of not being recognized as a victim, Isabelle Lorenzato said she was "relieved" that the "children have been protected by the justice" and Robert Le Dinh "has received ten years," during which "he won't hurt anyone" (La Dépêche). She mainly spoke of her personal case and the rape that she endured on France 2 and LCP. This attitude is understandable, given that she felt like a victim, but the media should, nevertheless, reflect upon the bias of their program on having invited her. But do they even want to? Do they even want to be aware of this?
The thoughtless compliance with the antisect rhetoric of some journalists is also questionable. The NouvelObs speaks of the "alleged guru, making an appeal for rapes.” The 'guru'—a derogatory term—which becomes itself bearer of crime, is "presumed guilty." Following the verdict of the appeal, leaving out the concept of "cult," the "alleged guru" once again becomes "Robert Lé Dinh, sentenced to ten years in prison for aggravated sexual assault" (NouvelObs).
The Lé Dinh case allows us to reach a conclusion which should be unnecessary. There's no such thing as the matter of 'sects'. There are only special cases. It is the role of the justice system to treat these cases as part of the common law.
Public authorities, through MIVILUDES and anti-sect associations, employ the fear of cults as an instrument to try to establish propaganda and a justice system dedicated to these groups, while claiming the contrary. The attitude of denial of the General Counsel in the case Lé Dinh is a reflection of the position of the Executive Branch and the Parliament on the subject of ‘sects.’
Not surprisingly, anti-sect actors believe they hold a truth which is inaccessible to ordinary people. Following the decision of the Court of Appeals, Mr. Picotin explained "the difficulty for worldwide legal, criminal systems, and for the general public to understand mental manipulation, a clever second degree" (La Dépêche). There is no doubt that the world was waiting for Mr. Picotin, Georges Fenech, Catherine Picard, and some obscure psychological "experts in sectarian matter" to understand the human psyche. Master Picotin also expected "the appeal she filed in cassation would result in a retrial", because Robert Lé Dinh "is a complete guru. As was made clear by the expert in the Toulouse trial, it is indeed mental manipulation" (La Dépêche). We (CICNS) disqualify the notion of "complete guru", as with "complete anti-sect", these statements deserve deeper reflection.
Despite this “influential” climate, the judges and the jury were able to see beyond the terms "cult" and "mental manipulation" during the appeals trial. This is remarkable and gives hope that the France will manage to rid itself of the anti-sect hysteria.
*The original article can be found on CICNS' website.