Officially entitled "a bill directed
to the reinforcement of prevention and repression of cultic movements
which undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms", the law
would punish "the fraudulent abuse of ... a person in a state of
psychological or physical subjection resulting from serious pressures
exercised or repeated or from techniques likely to alter his judgment,
leading ... this person to an act or an abstention which are seriously
harmful to him".
The law is basically a new version of the previous project that
included the notion of "mental manipulation" which came
under pressure from churches and human rights groups because it was
dangerously imprecise and was reminiscent of
"mind-control", a concept that has been debunked by scholars
in the 80's. Although the government claims that it has accepted
international and domestic criticism and has eliminated the specific
offence of mind control or brainwashing, the anti-brainwashing
provision is still there, cosmetically disguised as an amendment of a
pre-existing Section of the criminal code, Section 223-153.
In effect, it does create a new category of crime7.
The offence is punishable by a fine of up to $75,000 and five years
imprisonment. Those found guilty of "brainwashing" also face
a sort of civil death: they cannot exercise political, civil or family
rights, work as professional or even sign checks for several years.3
The law would also allow courts to close
down associations after one final decision against the cult itself or
its de facto leaders, finding them guilty of one among a number of
criminal offences. The criminal offences include personal violence,
illegal use of medicines or misleading publicity, but also relatively
minor offences such as breach of privacy or using the likeness of a
person without its consent. One final decision where a de facto leader
of a “cult” is declared guilty of one such offence is enough for
the draconian remedy of banning the group.
Note that Section 223-15 which now includes the disguised clause of
"mental manipulation" above is among those Sections whose
breach, when confirmed by a final decision against the “cult” or
its leaders, leads to the group’s ban.3
A reference to “cultic movements” is
included in the law, notwithstanding objections that there is no
definition of “cult”.3 Provisions
in the law also make now a religious group itself a legal entity
capable of being charged with a crime.2
The bill enables private anti-cult
associations to become party of court cases against “cults” on
behalf of allegedly brainwashed victims and to collect damages.
Note that the so-called "brainwashed victim" does not even
need to *consent* for the anti-cult associations to represent
him: since he is "brainwashed", his opinion simply does not
The full text of the law translated in
English and commented by Massimo Introvigne can be read here.