A Legal Twist: Jehovah's Witnesses can be called "A destructive Sect" in Spain

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Members of the Spanish Association AEVTJ

Updates and Understanding of the Spanish Association's stand against the Jehovah's Witness Sect's lawsuits

Written by Miss Usato, first published December 23rd, 2023

“Everything happens when you start to disagree. We call ourselves victims with all the right in the world. They don't let us go to another religion. They don't leave us alone. Their treatment is very painful.”

In June 2021, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organization in sued Asociación Española de Víctimas de los Testigos de Jehová (AEVTJ, or The Spanish Association of Victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses in English) for defaming their name. It was an attempt to use legal strategies to silence victims of the religious group.  Since then the AEVTJ received four (4) civil lawsuits from the Jehovah’s Witnesses branch in Ajalvir, Madrid, Spain. 

There are around 1,400 kingdom Halls and 120,000 Witnesses in Spain. So far AEVTJ has 200 members and is growing. It is planning to countersue the Organization for justice for its victims in the 2024.

"I tried to save my son, and I have not been able to."

On December 14th, 2023, hours before the President of the Spanish Association, Israel Flórez, went in front of the media, his son Eric Flórez (25) ended his life.

Eric was  born and raised in the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses until his family left the group. In 2015, Isreal Florez had also lost his sister in the same way.

In the Press Conference, Florez was in front of media to stress on how they are now in the process of starting a series of actions against the cult stating, “This religion has destroyed the lives of thousands of people.”

At the end of his statement, Florez, with tears in his eyes, concluded, “Everyone must know that going through a destructive cult has consequences. It can be to our children, our parents, it can be to us, it can be to friends, it can be in many ways.”

“Today my son put an end to his life. We don’t know why. Yes, it is true that cognitive dissonance, personality disorders, and having belonged to that destructive sect surely has had a lot to do with it.”

Eric Florez son of President of the AEVTJ Isreal Florez

The video above is of Isreal Florez talking about his son Eric on Glen Riedel’s channel. Its been asked for this audio to be shared to cause awareness of the high stakes and mental decline this sect causes.

AvoidJW extends heartfelt condolences to Isreal Florez, his family, and the Spanish association in grieving. 

Instead of addressing the life altering consequences of victims who have come forward about their harmful practices- mainly on ostracism (which is main focus and reason for the Spanish association, website, etc.)  the Jehovah’s Witness Organization are more upset about their reputation and their name being affiliated with bad exposure for the world to see. So once again, to these victims they are denouncing them, trying to silence them. They are bringing their own victims to court. Well, It didn’t work.

The  lawsuits below were to:

The Initial Lawsuits

El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper, was first sued because the Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed they were given false information by AEVTJ. El Mundo had to pay the costs. Since then, the Jehovah’s Witnesses has sued AEVTJ and its representatives:

  1.  AEVTJ (The Spanish Association of Victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses): Ruling on December 18th 2023, the Court of First Instance No. 6 of Torrejón de Ardoz has dismissed Jehovah’s Witnesses lawsuit against AEVTJ in its entirety.
  2. Israel Florez (AEVTJ President): Pending Trial
  3. Gabriel Pedrero (AEVTJ Social media manager): Pending Trial
  4. Enrique Carmona  (AEVTJ Secretary): Convicted of a crime; Required to pay a fine for describing Jehovah’s Witnesses as “a dangerous cult”. A source that attended the court hearing said that the judge made a straightforward and equidistant decision without listening to the victims.
From left to right: Carlos Bardavío, lawyer; Israel Flórez, AEVTJ President; Enrique Carmona, AEVTJ Secretary. | Credit: Nicolás de Cárdenas, Aciprensa

"The movement of people who have been harmed by the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses around the world has been born since its very foundation."

The lawsuits are  based on Jehovah’s Witnesses accusing the AEVTJ of “A series of offensive manifestations” along with the  alleged interference in the “right to honor”.

The religious group find the terms “cult” and “victims” being used against them as offensive and want them to disappear, demanded compensation of €25k and for AEVTJ to display headlines of their loss on their website as an “unlawful interference” with the Organization’s “right to honor”. They also demanded that once they complete the above, that AEVTJ’s site, name, and everything involved become “non-existent, cancelled, eliminated”.  

Honor can be understood in many different ways, but  reporting, exposing, and acknowledging abuse is not one of them. Instead of any sort of remorse or apology on how these victims were treated, victims are being sued and blamed for how they are reacting.

Below are the two (2) main reasons the Jehovah’s Witnesses initiated these lawsuits in the first place.  They claim that identifying them as a “A Cult” and the Spanish Association identifying itself as “The victims” is bringing dishonor to the religious group’s “good name”.

The December 14th 2023 trial,  is being reviewed here, along with the press conference on December 18th, 2023.

"A Cult"

Court Magistrate Raquel Chacon concluded that Jehovah’s Witnesses were a cult in a trial that had 12 Jehovah’s Witnesses on one side, and 12 former Jehovah’s Witnesses survivors with the AEVTJ on the other side.

Despite Jehovah’s Witnesses testifying that the Spanish association “foster hatred, discrimination and unjustified prejudice against the religious minority of Jehovah’s Witnesses” calling the entire idea “scandalous”, the Judge did not agree.

Judge Chacon said that the organization is “a destructive cult” and a “closed community of spiritual nature, guided by a leader who exercises charismatic power over his followers.” 

She acquitted the AEVTJ of all charges.

The Judge said the cult is “to be considered in our days as exhibiting excessive control over the lives of the faithful” that it has been revealed as “a strict hierarchical system”.

"The Victims"

“If there are victims, and it has been demonstrated with this sentence, it must be investigated and, if necessary, their 'well-known roots' must be removed and they must pay for this mental disaster that they are generating.”

Victims of Jehovah's Witnesses who testified about their experiences in Court.

The case included some fifteen former Jehovah’s Witnesses being heard in person, and more than seventy more being heard via recordings.

The victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses spoke about the separate unofficial system of Justice operating under the seams of the cult. The victims described the psychological and emotional damage that this parallel legal system has deeply and adversely affected their lives.

The victims at the trial, bursting into tears, remembering the abuse they went through, described the strict degrees of shunning they experienced:

  • The breaking up of families
  • isolation from society
  • prohibition of celebrating any holidays
  • the consequences for allowing the cult to control their decisions on blood transfusions.

Prohibiting the term “Victims”, as these former members describe themselves, would be an unjustified censorship for these people who freely express their opinion based on first person experience.

The ruling in this case now protects the freedom of expression of former members of Jehovah’s Witnesses whose freedom of expression allows them to be identified as “victims.”

What are "Well-known Roots"?

In Spain, Well-known Roots is defined as “the right to exist”, as a “good” religious confession. The Courts of Justice and Constitutional Court determine which religion is good and true, and which is bad and dangerous.

This organic law makes it so that the religious confessions are allowed to engage in negotiations with Spain on issues of cooperation, financing, and the right to religious education in schools. 

The Well-known Roots began as a legal status where the Spanish Government cooperates with religious confessions.  There are currently eight (8) religions in Spain with this categorisation, Jehovah’s Witnesses being one of them. 

Jehovah’s Witnesses, after many years of attempting to achieve “Well-known Roots” in Spain, were officially recognized as such in 2006. They celebrated by a mass baptism of hundreds of adherents at a decorated and colourful assembly that year. 

Five (5) mandatory requirements are established to obtain the declaration of well-known roots: 

  1. A seniority of thirty (30) years in the Registry of Religious Entities (it can be reduced to fifteen (15) years if recognition abroad of at least sixty (60) years can be demonstrated)
  2. A minimum number of entities and places of worship registered in the same Registry
  3. Accredit the territorial scope of action
  4. Has an adequate internal organizational structure
  5. Has an active presence in Spanish society.

Possible Tax Implications

Since 2013, Jehovah’s Witnesses have no longer had to pay IBI* (Property tax/ Council Tax) that is typically paid every year to the town hall. This is because in Spain they have enough “qualifications” as in “roots” in Spain. This also includes Corporate Tax, Donations and Asset Transfer Tax, other local taxes such as the Economic Activities Tax, and Capital Gains tax.

However, based on the recent ruling,  Jehovah’s Witnesses may have to pay IBI next year.

“The reality is that on April 25, the Government agreed to this tax equalization with confessions with “well-known roots” in Spain but without agreements with the State.”- Vida Nueva News Report

“As of December 19th 2023, the PSOE will request the review of the granting to Jehovah’s Witnesses of a municipal plot because it is judicially considered a “cult.” The socialist municipal group in the Los Barrios City Council will once again request an ex officio review of the administrative act that granted the religious denomination of Jehovah’s Witnesses a municipal plot valued at half a million euros for a period of 75 years, with the justification that there is a recent court ruling that qualifies this organization as a “cult.” – Noticia De la Villa Article

“AEVTJ has decided to take action and ask the Government to reconsider the declaration of “well-known roots” of the confession, while urging them to assume the costs of the therapies that many of the ex-adepts need. Along with this, they also propose a regulatory change to “achieve an effective cult law.” – ABC Sociedad site

At a press conference in Madrid December 18th 2023, The AEVTJ have announced that they will ask the Government to reconsider its consideration of “well-known roots” and the  implementation of specific regulations on sects. 

Florez says in the press conference “If there are victims, let them remove the well-known roots, let them take it away and pay for this mental health disaster they are causing.”

Supreme Court Madrid, Spain

The Outcome

“Nothing is going to stop us from moving forward.”

This has been a great win, not only for AEVTJ, but for victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world, especially when the judge recognizes the harmful acts this religious group commits against former members. Judge Chacon concluded the trial saying that this cult was involved in “Psychological abuse due to coercion and reduction of individual freedom”.

Instead of this being a win for the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization as they had hoped and expected, it came back full swing. The court did not find their claims to be valid or convincing enough. For an organization that is becoming “well-known” around the world for its detrimental handling of child sex abuse, and for it’s extreme practice of shunning doctrine, it is bold for it to come after an association whose focused goal is to help victims of the religious group’s cover-ups and silencing of abuse. 

At the end of the trial, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ spokesperson, Joan Comas, was quoted as saying that they are “tremendously upset”, and that they will be studying legal actions to defend themselves against the accusations. 

"Inform the Ministry of the Presidency [in charge of relations with religious denominations] that this suffering causes mental disorders”

"The Game"

Joan Comas JW Spokesperson
Massimo Introvigne Watchtower Apoligist

On the side of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the bitterness ensued red and vibrant. An article on ‘Bitter Winter’ by Watch Tower apologist, Massimo Introvigne, frequently likens the two parties (Jehovah’s Witnesses and AEVTJ)  to a soccer game, giving scores to who won against who: the victims whose lives were detrimentally affected by the cult, and the cult stomping their feet at the entire association. They even brought Jehovah’s Witnesses to testify against the AEVTJ, claiming defamation.

Massimo’s article had little snippets of contemptuous criticism, calling the AEVTJ’s win being a  “strange decision” and hinting that Judge Chacon’s views on the Spanish Law as “questionable” and that this needs to be solved by more “Superior Judges”. He also felt that the Judge erred on the way she defined  “secta” (cult) and “victim“.  Massimo describes the survivors/victims of this cult as “a bunch of disgruntled Ex-members” and then adds insult to injury by claiming that the victims truths are a customary laundry list of accusations used by anti-cult associations throughout the world”.

Massimo writes,However, freedom of expression does not protect the right to insult, that is, it does not protect those disqualifications that have been made from an unequivocal ‘animus injuriandi,’ that is, from a direct and main intention to hurt, humiliate or defile a natural person or in this case a religious denomination”.

Introvigne, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and those Jehovah’s Witnesses who testified in favour of the religious group are closing their eyes to the stadium, only looking for their time to kick in a goal while disregarding the rules and multiple fouls of their “team”.

The reasons for the AEVTJ’s existence is on the front page of their site, making it clear the importance to note they “have never encouraged or promoted acts of vandalism, or any criminal behavior to achieve [their] goals and never will.” The association has also made it clear as defenders of articles 18 and 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that they should not be categorized in such characteristics as this.  Rather, their mission is to denounce the behavior and control tactics resulting in the mental turmoil’s its members endured as Jehovah’s Witnesses. They offer support with legal and moral advice, their own experiences, and a listening ear. Their intent is to shine light on preventing self blame and inner conflicts for any type of abuse that occurred to the ones leaving. The association’s goal is to get the Jehovah’s Witness Organization to regularize their behaviors within the current legislation in the European area. This association is also led by ones who have experienced how it is being raised in this organization themselves, a great way to sympathize and be understood that you are not alone, and there are ways to overcome the grief and setbacks that happen when you leave a highly controlling religion.

Massimo for the homerun declares “The decision then devoted several dozen pages to reporting statements by “Apostate”  former Jehovah’s Witnesses who testified that they believe the accusations of the AEVTJ in the fields of shunning, sexual abuse, blood transfusion, and others to be true, and quoting media that repeated the same accusations.” putting a clear insensible decision between “Apostates” and Victims but refusing to acknowledge any of them as so.

If a “team” of Victims experiences of abuse and another of a corporation screaming about defamation are being related to a soccer game, I guess we will see what Goals will be reached and how many fouls there will be for the Jehovah’s Witness corporation to obtain a “win.” 

What's Next?

"The Association now has the immediate intention of "making it clear to society that Jehovah's Witnesses have been promoting hatred of society for more than 50 years."

Two (2) hour press conference with AEVTJ and its lawyer,. explaining how the trial went.

Footnotes

*Stated by the Spanish Association through media outlets and personal inquiry, they are coming back to sue the Jehovah’s Witness Organization. Legal matters and actions will continue, and that is the only update I am able to say. What is on other news sites though from their interpretation of the conference is:

*The Association intends to get the Government to review the status of a  “well-established religious denomination” that was recognized in 2006, and which allows Jehovah’s Witnesses to access a series of tax and other benefits. 

*The Association of Victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses demands a sect law from Parliament, meaning they don’t want the Government to finance Jehovah’s Witnesses for their religious “incitement to hatred” and the “high mental control” they exercise over their followers (along the same notion to what has happened in Norway) – This information was from News article from ‘La Vanguardia”

*They will promote the presentation in the Congress of Deputies of more than 300,000 petitions for the elaboration of a “law against coercive persuasion.” 

*They will participate in the delivery of 300,000 signatures in the Congress of Deputies, promoted by the Sectarian Prevention and Abuse of Weakness Network (Redune) 

*Despite the sects actions on the reasons of suing for defamation in the beginning, the Association still intends to launch an advertising campaign through their social networks.

The Spanish Association has worked tremendously hard while enduring a loss for their stand of their victims voices that have helped this trial and their case. The trial from Jehovah’s Witnesses vs AEVTJ will go to higher courts in 2024. 

*The links of the lawsuits provided from the association are in Spanish. Currently they are being formatted to the correct translation, and making sure it is translated to the right definitions and terms so as not to cause confusion and misrepresentation. This article will be updated with them soon.