German Scientologist is given asylum in U.S. Immigration judge accepts woman's argument that she would be persecuted

November 09, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TAMPA, Fla. -- A federal immigration court judge has granted asylum to a German member of the Church of Scientology who said she would be subjected to religious persecution had she been required to return to her homeland, the woman's lawyer and a Scientology official said Friday.

While few details were available, it is believed to be the first time the United States has given asylum protection to a Scientologist.

The Church of Scientology has been waging a highly public international campaign against what it considers discrimination against its members by the German government.

The asylum case comes as the treatment of Scientologists in Germany remains a topic of dispute between Washington and Bonn, which refuses to recognize Scientology as a religion.

Officials at the German Embassy in Washington said Friday that they had not heard of the asylum decision and would have no reaction until it was confirmed.

For the past four years, the State Department has criticized Germany's treatment of Scientologists in its annual human rights report.

To protect relatives still in Germany, Scientology officials refused to disclose the woman's name or where she lived.

Kurt Weiland, an official with the Church of Scientology International, said a dozen German witnesses testified at the immigration hearing that the woman faced severe persecution at home.

German officials consider Scientology an extremist organization dedicated to defrauding people. The German government has barred Scientologists from membership in major political parties and placed the organization under surveillance.

Pub Date: 11/09/97

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