The Jehovah's Witnesses in Belgium must pay a €12,000 fine for the systematic and "disturbing" exclusion of ex-members who have left the organisation, the Ghent correctional court ruled on Tuesday.
The court ruled that the non-profit association behind Jehovah's Witnesses is guilty of inciting discrimination and hatred or violence against former members, reports the Belga news agency.
"The Jehovah's Witnesses' shunning policy cuts to the very core of relationships, and the victims suffer both physical and psychological consequences," one of the lawyers of the civil parties said during the trial last month.
In 2015, an ex-member took the organisation to the Ghent public prosecutor's office for slander and defamation, insults and violation of the discrimination law.
He claimed that once the members had left the group, they were disowned and completely isolated socially, by order of the organisation.
The Ghent public prosecutor's office summoned the Jehovah's Witnesses for four charges: incitement to discrimination on the basis of religious belief against a person, and against a group, as well as incitement to hatred or violence against a person, and against a group.
Belgium's Interfederal Equal Opportunities Centre Unia and some fifteen individuals had taken up civil action, with the victims' lawyers emphasising the far-reaching consequences of the "shunning policy," reports De Morgen.
"Jehovah's Witnesses state that ex-members should be shunned like the plague," said lawyer Pieter-Bram Lagae, who assists the ex-witness who started the case.
"He used to sit on the Jehovah's Judicial Committee and help decide on exclusions, until he realised it was going too far," Lagae said. "We act, for example, for a man whose wife is still a member, and he is ignored in his own home. Or a woman who has never seen her father since the exclusion."
"This is just the start," former Jehovah's Witnesses member Patrick Haeck told Het Nieuwsblad. "We are going to the European Court. This has to stop everywhere."
The Brussels Times