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Rulings Support Sect's Harassment Of Journalist

Court Rulings Support Sect's Harassment Of Freelance Journalist

PARIS (RSF/Pacific Media Watch): Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today condemned intimidation and harassment of Australian freelance journalist John Macgregor by the Elan Vital sect and a series of rulings by the Queensland Supreme Court in Elan Vital¹s favour which pose a threat to press freedom.

The organisation said it has written to Press Council chairman Ken McKinnon and attorney-general Philip Ruddock asking them to ensure that press freedom is guaranteed in coverage of Elan Vital¹s activities.

The Supreme Court of the north-eastern state of Queensland ordered a search of Macgregor¹s personal computer in its most recent ruling, on 1 March 2004. Macgregor stated on that occasion that he had been harassed by Australian members of Elan Vital, an international sect led by a guru known as Maharaji.

Macgregor had been unable to speak out previously because he had been subject to an 18-week ³gag order² issued by the court in October, banning him from talking or writing about this court case.

The gag order was obtained on October 23 by the law firm Quinn and Scattini, acting for Ivory's Rock Conference Centre (IRCC), a company linked to Elan Vital. At the same time, the law firm obtained permission from the court to search Macgregor¹s computer to find out his sources for 11 compromising documents he had received from the husband of a follower of the sect. The ruling was obtained without Macgregor¹s knowledge and he would have been in contempt of court if he told anyone about it.

As a result of this ruling, the sect watched Macgregor and threatened him. Two lawyers and a computer technician went to his home in the south-western city of Perth on October 24 and told him private detectives had been watching him for several days. They threatened to have him arrested if he did not let them check his computer. Macgregor refused to let them do this.

Macgregor appealed against the ruling on November 6, but it was upheld by the supreme court. As a result, the sect¹s lawyers were able to make copies of files and personal emails on Macgregor¹s laptop. On November 21, the court fined Macgregor A$2000 (more than 1,000 euros) and ordered him to pay IRCC¹s costs, which could be at least A$58,000 (about 35,000 euros).

Macgregor told Reporters Without Borders he is not backed by any news organisation. His lawyer, Ian Cunliffe, will try to obtain a reduction in the amount at the next hearing, on April 15. But IRCC¹s lawyers have undertaken to initiate another lawsuit against Macgregor.

In December, the sect¹s lawyer wrote to employers of Macgregor accusing him of stealing documents with the aim of harming Maharaji, the sect¹s leader. Macgregor was portrayed as the head of a conspiracy against Elan Vital.

Macgregor told Reporters Without Borders that the lawsuits and the other resources deployed by the sect were aimed at silencing him on the eve of Maharaji¹s arrival in Australia next month.

A member of the sect in the 1970s, Macgregor wrote several articles for Australian newspapers in 2002, including The West Australian and Good Weekend, accusing the sect and its leader of financial and sexual misconduct.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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