Issue 7, Article 3, 6 July 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Thursday 6 July 2000

by Jonathan Luxmoore, Keston News Service

Poland's Interior Ministry plans to set up a special department to monitor new
religious movements amid growing public concern over the activities of such
groups in the country. However, a leading official told Keston News Service
that religious freedom would be unaffected and denied that the move would
add to pressure on religious groups outside the predominant Roman Catholic

`The problem of sects is smaller here than in other European countries - at least
for now,' declared KRZYSZTOF WIKTOR, the head of Poland's existing Inter-
Ministerial Team for New Religious Movements. `But if a religious or para-
religious group violates fundamental human rights and causes destruction
consciously and intentionally, the state must intervene.' The official was
speaking after unveiling plans for the new Interior Ministry department at a 28
June Warsaw press conference. He said that the department, to be formally
established in September, would have no `executive or operational
instruments'. However, its tasks would include `preparing assistance and
prevention programmes and legislative changes', as well as `co-ordinating
actions by state organs and co-operation with non-governmental organisations'.

`Although I cannot give an exact count, I estimate the most dangerous sects
here at between ten and twenty, and other destructive groups which do not
threaten society directly at several dozen,' Wiktor told Keston on 4 July.
`Religious or cultic activities undertaken in good faith do not come under our
assessment. But acts with a harmful character or destructive intentions must
interest us, since the state is the guardian of order and public security.'

Besides Roman Catholics, who make up 95 per cent of the country's 39 million
citizens, 13 Christian denominations are recognised under their own separate
laws in Poland, while a further 139 religious associations, ranging from
Jehovah's Witnesses to the Korean-based Unification Church, are registered
with full church rights. Poland's 1989 freedom of conscience law, passed in the
final year of communist rule, required 15 signatures as a condition for legal
registration. However, the threshold was raised to 100 under June 1998
amendments after being criticised by Roman Catholic politicians.

Registered Christian minorities have repeatedly accused the Roman Catholic
Church of exerting pressure against smaller groups. In a recent interview with
Keston, the deputy chief presbyter of Poland's 2500-strong Church of
Evangelical Christians, LEON DZIADKOWIEC, said his church had requested
the same legal status as the country's Pentecostals, but had encountered a `lack
of interest' from government officials. He added that `problems and delays'
often reflected the attitude of Roman Catholic leaders, as well as `pro-Catholic
options' within the Polish government. `The Polish constitution obliges the
government to reach agreement with churches on their legal status, but it is not
being observed,' Dziadkowiec complained, noting that his
church had been the first fully legalised Christian minority after Poland's 1918
independence. `Our letters and requests have received no reaction, and we are
still at the very beginning.'

The Jesuit spokesman for Poland's Roman Catholic Bishops Conference,
Father ADAM SZULC, said his church was not trying to `restrict religious
freedom' but was co-operating increasingly with Wiktor's Inter-Ministerial
Team to impede sects which `present themselves as churches'. However, in his
Keston interview, Wiktor said his Team maintained no `direct links' with the
Roman Catholic church and only engaged in `rare co-operation'. He added that
the Bishops Conference was represented in Team contacts by Bishop
ZYGMUNT PAWLOWICZ, the author of a best-selling 1996 book, `The
Church and Sects', and would be invited to an early autumn conference, along
with seven minority churches belonging to the Polish Ecumenical Council. `In
decision-making, we are fully autonomous and don't feel any pressure from the
Catholic Church or any other Church,' Wiktor told Keston.

`If a religious, psycho-therapeutic or economic community engages in
destructive acts, we have to take note. But nothing has changed or will change
where religious freedom in Poland is concerned.' Asked about his contacts with
parallel governmental institutions abroad, Wiktor said his Team maintained
`working links' with an inter-ministerial group headed by ALAIN VIVIEN in
France, and had sent a representative to observe the group's work in April.
However, he added that the two bodies had no `common policy' and said his
Team had also looked at `useful experiences' in Sweden. `The French are
undoubtedly in the avant-garde and clearing a path in this area', Wiktor
continued. `But we are not following the French model directly. Since France
is a secular country, where there is no dominant religion and the church is
totally separate from the state, the government can take stronger steps.'

The announcement by the Interior Ministry department coincided with an Inter-
Ministerial Team report which stated that Polish courts had handled just 49
sect-related prosecutions in 1992-9, a third resulting in convictions for `acts
indirectly or directly related to participation in a sect'. However, the document
said officials were concerned at the apparent increase in satanist-linked
incidents in Poland, adding that nine cases had been investigated in 1999,
including two ritual killings. It added that the Team defined a sect as `a social
group which has a destructive character through the use of physical, psychic
and material methods, and violates basic human rights and the principles of
social coexistence'. Wiktor told Keston he believed this was broader than the
definition used in France, but said applying the `sect' label to a group had no
`legal consequences' in itself. He added that a larger government report would
be issued at the end of 2000 showing the `concrete effects of threatening sect
activities in Poland'.

In a 30 June `vacation handbook', Poland's Church-owned Catholic Information
Agency (KAI) called on citizens to `be on guard' against sects during the
summer, adding that caution should be shown towards `language courses and
workshops' which promised rapid progress, as well as ecological or low-cost
trips and invitations to `mass religious events'.

Speaking to Keston in March, Wiktor said he believed Polish law should be
tightened to bar `doubtful groups' from claiming church rights. However, in his
4 July interview, he admitted his Team had not yet made a `deep analysis' of
the law, adding that no named group may be removed from the list of
registered religious associations without `serious material proofs' before a
County Court.

`The criminal law seems unsuited to some issues, such as mental or
psychological manipulation - if we decide the law is insufficient, we will
propose new solutions,' Wiktor said. `We are acting within the law, and if we
obtain proof that the activity of this or that religious group violates the law or
its own internal statute, the possibility exists to deny it legal status'.

Several registered non-Christian groups have recently brought successful
slander actions in Polish courts, including the Hindu Chaitani Mission, which
won damages from an anti-sect organisation in July 1999 and from the leader
of a right-wing youth group on 29 June. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.