Jehovah's Witnesses' scandal: state intelligence to home in on sects

Belgian justice minister Koen Geens (Flemish Christian democrat) wants Jehovah’s Witnesses wishing to leave the organisation to receive help from the sects’ watchdog.  The minister was speaking after VRT's Pano programme revealed widespread sexual abuse of children among the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation.

On Wednesday several people came forward to bear witness to sexual abuse of children among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, an organisation that is often seen as a society within society and whose members are obliged to follow strict religious rules.  Numerous were the Jehovah's Witnesses who said how difficult it was to leave the organisation.  Karel Decaestecker, who grew up in a Jehovah's Witnesses family, but decided to leave, explained how difficult it was to obtain benefit to live on.

Mr Geens is proposing that IACSSO, the Belgian sects' watchdog, play a fuller role in helping people leave the organisation.  The minister stresses the need for a multidisciplinary approach saying people should receive help to steer a course among the various agencies that can play a role in providing e.g. financial and psychological support.

The justice minister also insists that elders within the Jehovah's Witnesses movement should report criminal acts.  There are claims that the names of child abuse suspects are kept in a blue envelope that hasn't been shown to the justice department.  Moreover, there are worries that child abusers have been tried by internal courts and that offences have been kept from the wider public. Mr Geens notes that negligence is a punishable act.

Federal prosecutors are investigating possible abuse within the organisation.  Koen Geens is eager to go further: "I will also ask the secret service to take a closer look at the activity of sects."