Protesters picket Dublin office of scientology church


More than 100 people took part in a picket of the Irish headquarters of the Church of Scientology yesterday, one of many protests held worldwide against the controversial organisation.

The protest was organised by a group calling itself Anonymous Ireland, a loose collective of young people involved in internet protests against the religion. Many attending the protest on Middle Abbey Street wore masks, saying they feared intimidation or legal threats.

"Anonymous is a group of genuinely concerned citizens that wish to educate the Irish public on the real danger of this purely money-driven cult and to prevent scientology from taking root in Ireland as it has in America, Spain and even in the UK," the group said in a statement.

"We do not oppose scientology's spiritual beliefs, merely the money-grabbing corporate way in which they sell them to their own followers, extorting them for every penny they own and brainwashing them with pipe dreams of 'spiritual salvation at a price'."

The Church of Scientology responded yesterday by describing Anonymous Ireland as "a group of cyber-terrorists who hide their identities behind masks and computer anonymity".

It accused the group of perpetrating "religious hate crimes" against the church and individual members for "no other reason than religious bigotry".

"Quite obviously, this group is not just anti-scientology, it is anti-freedom of religion and anti-free speech," it said in a statement.

The worldwide protests are the latest instalment in a campaign fought by internet activists and hackers against the religion. Last month, a video clip of actor Tom Cruise extolling the virtues of scientology was leaked to the internet, but YouTube and other sites removed it under threat of litigation by the church, which claimed copyright infringement.

Since then, a series of internet guerrilla actions have been launched against the church, ranging from the leaking of documents to "Google bombing", whereby the search engine has been manipulated to return the Scientology website when users type "dangerous cult".

One of the Dublin protesters, Jeff Rudd, said he wanted to ensure the public was aware of the techniques used by the Church of Scientology to induct members which, he said, included brainwashing and indoctrination. "A friend of mine got involved and got out after a year, but not before his bank balance and his mental balance had been affected."

Gerard Ryan, spokesman for the Irish branch of the church, rejected these criticisms. The church was neither secretive nor wealthy, he said: its accounts were available for all to view and it made "zero profit" each year. "Just because you saw something on the internet doesn't mean it's true," he told the protesters.

He said "disconnection" - where church members are instructed to sever all ties from family members or friends critical of scientology - only happened in extreme cases. He couldn't recall such a case happening in Ireland.

Asked about "fair game", a policy of scientology founder L Ron Hubbard which allows critics to be "tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed", Mr Ryan said this had been repealed shortly after it was formulated. "I will not stand over any unsavoury practice of any scientologist in any part of the world," he said.

In 2003, a former member of the Irish mission settled a High Court claim for damages against the church. Anonymous Ireland says it plans another protest on Mr Hubbard's birthday next month.