An appeals court in France has maintained a conviction against the Church of Scientology that stipulates the religious organization exploited vulnerable believers.
The Cour de Cassation upheld the conviction on Wednesday - one that will bring hundreds of thousands of euros in fines - after Scientologists requested that the court disregard a charge from four years ago for "organized fraud." The group argued that the conviction put their religious freedoms in jeopardy.
Scientologists based at their headquarters in Los Angeles told the Agence France Press that the court ruling was "an affront to justice and religious liberty," after releasing a statement that called the French government "anti-religious" and "extremist."
"The Court failed to address the fundamental violations of the human rights of each of the defendants that infected every level of this case," the church stated, adding that they'd stay on the issue "at the international level."
The Scientology Celebrity Centre was ordered to fork over 600,000 euros ($812,000) in fines for allegedly taking advantage of members' financials in the 1990s, AFP reported. The bookshop branch in France will also have to pay up.
The case stemmed from complaints lodged by two women who claimed they'd been tricked into buying an "electrometer" to measure mental energy for 20,000 euros in 1998. One of the women stated she was forced to sign up for courses and participate in tests, but when she declined, she was fired.
The initial ruling all but barred French citizens from practicing Scientology. The European country largely sees Scientology as a cult rather than a religious congregation. The state has gone after certain Scientologists in court in the past, but the 2009 conviction was the first time that the entire group was prosecuted as a whole.
Legislator Georges Fenech, head of a parliamentary group on religious cults in France, said the ruling was correct.
"Far from being a violation of freedom of religion, as this American organization contends, this decision lifts the veil on the illegal and highly detrimental practices," Fenech said.
Scientology was founded in 1954 by U.S. science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, AFP reported. About 12 million people are members of the Church of Scientology around the world - 45,000 of them live in France.