Germany drops attempt to ban Scientology
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BERLIN â€“ Germany’s Interior Ministry has bannedÂ Hezbollah‘stelevision stationÂ on grounds that it violates the country’s constitution, a spokesman said Friday.
Interior Ministry spokesmanÂ Markus BeyerÂ said Al-ManarÂ television programmingÂ was forbidden under Article 9 of Germany’s constitution, which says that organizations cannot operate with the purpose of violating “international understanding.”
Al-Manar had no immediate comment.
Interior Minister Wolfgang SchaeubleÂ ordered the ban on November 11, Beyer said in an e-mailed comment.
Beyer was not more specific on why the ban was instituted, but Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television is known to be staunchly anti-IsraelÂ and frequently broadcasts footage of Hezbollah fighters.
Beyer did not immediately return a call seeking further comment.
Arabic-language Al-Manar is based inÂ BeirutÂ and broadcasts locally and by satellite.
The station has no physical presence inÂ Germany.
Hezbollah, which has been fighting Israel since the early 1980s, has broad support among Lebanon’s Shiite population. Israel and the U.S. consider it a terrorist organization and accuse it of being behind deadly attacks inÂ LebanonÂ and abroad.
The U.S. has also banned Al-Manar.
Hezbollah is not banned in Germany but is under observation by the country’sÂ domestic intelligence agency, which tracks extremists.
POTSDAM, Germany â€“Â GermanyÂ is dropping its pursuit of a ban onScientologyÂ after finding insufficient evidence of illegal activity, security officials said Friday. Domestic intelligence services will continue to monitor the group, officials said. The German branch of theLos Angeles-basedÂ Church of ScientologyÂ has been under observation by domestic intelligence services for more than a decade. Top security officials asked state governments in December to begin gathering information on whether they had sufficient grounds to seek a ban.
The Church of ScientologyÂ welcomed the ministers’ decision to stop seeking a ban as the “only one possible.”
“There never was a legal basis to open such proceedings,” said Sabine Weber, a spokeswoman for Scientology in Germany.
Scientology further called on officials to end the observation, and what it called “the discrimination and the harassment that go along with it.”
Germany has said it considers Scientology to be in conflict with the principles of the nation’s constitution, calling it less a church than a business that uses coercion to take advantage of vulnerable people.
A report on extremism last charged that Scientology “seeks to limit or rescind basic and human rights, such as the right to develop one’s personality and the right to be treated equally.”
“This organization pursues goals â€” through its writings, its concept and its disrespect for minorities â€” that we cannot tolerate and that we consider in violation of the constitution. But they put very little of this into practice,” Erhart Koerting,Â Berlin‘s top security official, told reporters. “The appraisal of the government at the moment is that (Scientology) is a lousy organization, but it is not an organization that we have to take a hammer to.”
Interior Minister Wolfgang SchaeubleÂ and his counterparts from Germany’s 16 states agreed Friday that there was not enough proof to justify opening proceedings for such a ban but domestic intelligence services will continue to monitor Scientology’s activities.
“Before we open preliminary proceedings (leading to a ban), we need concrete evidence of unconstitutional activity,”Â August Hanning, a Schaeuble deputy, said. “TheÂ security agenciesÂ are predominantly of the opinion that there is not sufficient evidence of this.”
The Church of ScientologyÂ has long battled to end the surveillance, saying it is an abuse ofÂ freedom of religion, and the U.S. State Department regularly criticizes Germany for the practice in its annual Human Rights Report.
Scientology was founded in 1954 by the late science fiction writerÂ L. Ron Hubbard. It first set up in Germany in 1970 and officials estimate it counts some 5,000 to 6,000 members here.
According to the 2007 annual report of the German agency that tracks extremism, Scientology “seeks to reduce or deny basic constitutional and human rights, such as the right toÂ human dignity, the right to self-fulfillment and the right to equal treatment.”
Associated Press Writer Melissa Eddy contributed to this report from Berlin.