Belgium: State security spies on high-level politicians about their possible links with sects

“International human rights organizations can play a cleaning up role that our ‘system’ is apparently
not able to play by itself,” says Senator Prof. Rik Torfs. Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l
is in support of the senator and 
is willing to lend him a hand in any future action in relation to this matter.

HRWF (06.02.2013) – Senator Rik Torfs, Professor in Canon Law at the Catholic University of Leuven and an internationally known expert in new religious movements, Minister Maggie De Block, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, and former Minister of Justice Tony Van Parys were three of the names mentioned in an October 2012 secret report by the Belgian state security. The report which was about the “Analysis of the phenomenon of non-state interference activities” was leaked to the media a few days ago. Many other politicians were named in the report for their links with “sects” such as Scientology, Sahaja Yoga as well as the Muslim Brothers.

The confidential report was distributed only to the highest authorities of the state: PM Elio Di Rupo, Vice-PM Didier Reynders, Johan Vande Lanotte and Joëlle Milquet, Justice Minister Annemie Turtelboom, Minister-President of the Flemish Community Kris Peeters, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Royal Palace.

In December 2012, another secret report distributed to a limited number of politicians and the Minister of Foreign Affairs was also leaked to the press.

The head of the state security, Alain Winants, denied spying on politicians and said their names were mentioned in the report because they had been approached by sects. “Every organisation has the right to lobby,” the report says “but when politicians are contacted to influence decision making, to adapt laws or to exert some influence, the red line is crossed. Then, it is a case of interference.”

It is worth investigating whether the state security also listed political decision-makers who were approached by the Catholic Church when the laws on same-sex marriage, euthanasia and other sensitive ethical issues were discussed in the Parliament. Whilst the Belgian Catholic Church has been beset by large-scale paedophile scandals resulting in hundreds of victims, Sahaja Yoga and almost all the other religious movements suspected of being harmful have never been sentenced for criminal activity.

Last but not least, Winants lodged a complaint against unknown people for leaking a secret report.

The relevant commission of the senate has asked the Standing Committee Monitoring the State Security, Committee I, to open an enquiry about the functioning of the state security.

Senator Prof. Rik Torfs’ Opinion

On 4th February, Senator Prof. Rik Torfs published an opinion entitled “Privacy and freedom of religion under pressure” in the Flemish daily newspaper “De Morgen”:

“The state security investigated contacts between a number of religious groups and politicians and scholars, including me. That is what has come out of the secret report leaked in the media (DM 2/2).

I am very concerned that the state security has produced such a report and furthermore because the report was leaked.  

Regarding the report, is it really necessary on the name of the state security and protection of democracy to investigate the tribulations of all sorts of so-called “sects”? If members of such groups violate the laws individually or collectively, they must be prosecuted. Religion can never be used as an excuse for criminal activities but watching over citizens without tracking any specific misdemeanour is a violation of human rights. Privacy and freedom of religion are under pressure.

Alain Winants, general administrator of the state security, considers his mandate to keep an eye on “sects”. But what are sects? According to him, he relies on the list that was put together by the parliamentary inquiry commission on sects in 1997. It is worth pointing out that Winants forgot that although the list was an addition to the report of the commission, it was never adopted by the parliament because of strong social protest. The list only comprises an enumeration of all the groups which were investigated during the – anyway rather chaotic – work of the commission. It does not contain any judgment of value, a competence solely reserved to the parliament. However, our state security uses the list to target anyone who is mentioned in it. Unacceptable of course. Amateur and silly work.

Rule of law

As a professor, I have had many professional contacts over the years with Scientology and numerous other religious groups in Europe as well as in America. Those who work in the field of freedom of religion on the international scene cannot do without it. But frankly speaking, the mere fact that I am writing about this disturbs me. Scientology is not a banned movement. I am no supporter of their philosophy. I prefer to leave that to Tom Cruise and John Travolta. And if members have had criminal activities, they must be prosecuted. But people can still speak with whom ever they want. That is the case for bakers and butchers, scholars and politicians. This is called freedom. That is why we live in a law-based state.

The way the state security has acted highlights the necessity to define a clear legal framework where it is strictly and restrictively said how they can carry out their activities. Indeed, the normal way criminal activities can be brought to light must go on following the judicial way, by which independent magistrates pilot the procedure while carefully respecting human rights in general and the principles of a fair trial in particular. If this is not the case, we become a police state. Sometimes, we are dangerously close to that in our country.

Now, the second point – the leak of this very secret report. According to Alain Winants, this is a a crime. He suggests an internal settlement of scores. Winants is a candidate for re-election but maybe there are many other candidates of another political colour. The leak can put Winants in an awkward position. But who exactly leaked the report? Indeed, very few guardians of our law-based state received the report. Common sense tells us that a high-level figure in our country leaked the secret report of the state secuirty or allowed the leak to push forward a political protégé.


I do not find this normal because it threatens the state security and democracy. It is another issue than the usual big issues such as the endowment of Prince Laurent or of the governor of West-Flanders. The source of the leak must therefore be carefully identified. Unfortunately, we know how disappointing the outcome usually is.

To my personal displeasure, I feel some bitterness creeping into my reasoning. However, we must not downplay what has happened. It is not normal that the state security violates the privacy of people on the basis of an informal list dating back to 1997. It is not normal that secret reports of the state security are being leaked. It is not normal that key positions are still politically bargained, which allows this cynical game to go on.

Let us not accept such derailings to happen. International human rights organizations can play a cleaning up role that our “system” is apparently not able to play by itself.

Three years ago I would have found this conclusion too hard. Not any more. Unfortunately.”

HRWF Int’l notices that the federal Information and Advisory Centre on Harmful Sectarian Organizations, also commonly called the Sect Observatory, has kept silent about the spying activities of the state security and the misuse of the controversial list of the parliamentary commission on sects.