Scientology faces allegations of torture in Australia

Australian prime minister considers inquiry after senator tables allegations including forced abortions, assault and blackmail

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said he would consider an inquiry into the Church of Scientology after a senator tabled allegations against the organisation, including forced abortions, assault, torture, imprisonment, covering up sexual abuse, embezzlement of church funds and blackmail.

Senator Nick Xenophon tabled letters from former officials and staff of the Church of Scientology alleging criminal activity, and demanded a review of the organisation’s tax-exempt status.

”Scientology is not a religious organisation, it is a criminal organisation that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs,” he told the senate.

Among the letters tabled was one written by Aaron Saxton, from Perth, who said he engaged in torture and blackmail while working for the church in Australia and at its American headquarters between 1989 and 1996.

Rudd said the allegations were ”grave” and that he would consider an inquiry, but said the evidence needed to be looked at carefully. ”Many people in Australia have real concerns about Scientology. I share some of those concerns. But let us proceed carefully, and look carefully at the material which he has provided, before we make a decision on further parliamentary action,” Rudd said.

Xenophon, an independent member of the Australian Parliament who built a reputation fighting the spread of poker machines in his home state, South Australia, tabled the documents in the senate saying he had also referred the allegations to New South Wales and Australian federal police.

Xenophon said he had received letters from many more former church members who were too afraid to talk to authorities.

The letter from Aaron Saxton claimed he had assisted in the forced confinement and torture of a female church member who was kept under house arrest, Xenophon told the Senate. Saxton also said he was involved in coercing female followers to have abortions to keep followers loyal to the organisation and to allow them to keep working for it.

”Aaron says women who fell pregnant were taken to offices and bullied to have an abortion. If they refused, they faced demotion and hard labour,” Xenophon said. ”Aaron says one staff member used a coat hanger and self-aborted her child for fear of punishment.”

One letter from a former executive director of the Sydney branch of the church, Carmel Underwood, said that when she fell pregnant she was put under extreme pressure to have an abortion.

”Carmel says she also witnessed a young girl who had been molested by her father being coached as to what she should say to investigating authorities in order to keep the crimes secret,” Xenophon said.

Anna and Dean Detheridge from Sydney, who spent 17 years on church staff, said they were ”subjected to physical and mental abuse during their time with the organisation”, according to the parliamentary statement.

”Anna and Dean also provided evidence where information they and others have revealed to the church has been used to blackmail and control. They also provided more information about coerced abortions,” Xenophon said.

The Church of Scientology issued a statement accusing Xenophon of abusing parliamentary privilege. ”Senator Xenophon is obviously being pressured by disgruntled former members who use hate speech and distorted accounts,” the statement said. ”They are about as reliable as former spouses are when talking about their ex-partner.” —

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