Poor guy versus multinational cult
Stockholm, January 17, 2001
[This is a second series about Scientology v. Zenon Panoussis. Zenon dealt with a similar case as I was doing, although while I kept winning in the Netherlands, he kept losing in Sweden. The first series – from May 1998 – can be found here.]
BY THE TIME that this court case will be appealed, we will need a trailer. I am the beast of burden. I am sitting in my wheelchair with my laptop bag on my lap; on top of that, a huge Samsonite containing most of Zenon’s court files, and on top of that again a plastic bag containing the papers that wouldn’t fit into the Samsonite. My arms and hands are wrapped around the mountain of bags to prevent them from shifting and falling. Zenon is huffing and puffing: he needs to push twenty-five kilos more than usual. This court case is half my weight.
We are in Stockholm for the appeal in Scientology versus Panoussis. In 1996, Zenon did the same as I, and more than a hundred people, had done in 1995 in The Netherlands: he put the Fishman Affidavit on his homepage, a court file containing parts of Scientology’s higher course material, the so-called OT-levels. Zenon got sued by Scientology, just like me. The cult claimed copyrights and secrecy.
Zenon contacted me in 1996. We became friends and often mailed one another about our respective court cases.
But Zenon did more that we in The Netherlands did. He posted the NOTs, yet higher course material, and, according to Scientology, yet more secret. Moreover, when Scientology sued him, he deftly used the Swedish “offentlighetsprincipen”. This constitutional principle states that every citizen has the right to access all documents that are in the possession of the state, unless these documents contain state secrets or exclusively relate to private matters. Citizens may request copies of all government documents. Zenon filed the OTs and NOTs with the court and Parliament (riksdagen), thus ensuring that anybody could access these files or could ask for a copy for a small administrative fee. The result? The material that Scientology had chased with such vehemence – raiding providers, organisations and individuals over them; threatening, intimidating and suing people over them – these documents were suddenly legally available, official stamps and all.
Scientology got furious and managed to incite the US – the cult’s claws reach far – to start a diplomatic row with Sweden over this constitutional offentlighetsprincipen. The US even threatened Sweden with a trade boycott if Sweden didn’t stop its official distribution of the OTs and NOTs. After three years of diplomatic and legal bickering, Sweden limited the constitution that they took such great pride in: from then on, unpublished material from third parties was no longer covered by the offentlighetsprincipen.
Meanwhile, Zenon moved to Amsterdam. We became lovers. “We were brought together by Scientology” became our standard joke.
IN SEPTEMBER 1998 the ruling in Scientology’s case against Zenon was given: Zenon lost on most counts. The court ruled that neither the OTs nor the NOTs were legally published, and thus nobody was allowed to possess private copies, nor could one quote from them. They ordered Zenon to pay Scientology some 2000 USD damages and more than 150,000 USD in legal fees. Scientology had claimed almost two million dollars in legal fees, a ridiculously high amount for Swedish standards, but even this 150,000 dollars was unprecedented. Hardly surprising, Zenon couldn’t pay that money, and Scientology confiscated most of his salary in The Netherlands. For more than two years he has been living under the level of minimum subsistence; and yet, what Scientology confiscates every month doesn’t even cover the legal interest on the main sum. The most cynical aspect of all this is that afterwards, in my case the Dutch court ruled that the OTs should be regarded as having been legally published, a ruling that was to a great extent based on testimonies delivered – guess – in Zenon’s court case.
[Unbiased columnism is a series of seven court reports on the proceedings of Scientology versus Zenon Panoussis. This series covers the Jan 2001 sessions. Next: Mangled material.]