Vol. 4, No. 1
Legal Regulations and Police Responsibilities with Regard to Totalitarian
Totalitarian Groups Analysis Unit
Catalan Police Force, Mossos d'Esquadra
This paper is
based on a presentation at the American Family Foundation conference in
Hartford, Connecticut, October 17-18, 2003.
first reviews the topic of legal regulations and police responsibilities with
regard to totalitarian groups as these elements are addressed in the Spanish
Constitution, l’Estatut d’Autonomia de Catalunya, the Religious Liberty Law of
Spain, the European Parliament, and the Spanish Penal Code. It then discusses
police responsibilities in regard to prevention and response.
In democratic societies, the main
objective of police organizations is to protect citizens’ security and to
guarantee their rights and freedoms. Every police action is subjected to the
principle of legality. In other words, as police officers, we must act according
to the law.
In this sense, let us look at what
aspects of the Spanish Constitution, l’Estatut d’Autonomia, the Religious
Liberty Law of Spain, the European Parliament, and the Spanish Penal Code relate
to totalitarian groups. I have bolded those sections of the law that I think are
most relevant to totalitarian groups.
The Spanish Constitution
Part I of the Spanish Constitution of
1978 establishes “fundamental rights and duties.” Section 10 of Part I says
(emphases added here and in subsequent quotes):
- The dignity of the person,
the inviolable rights that are inherent, the free development of the
personality, and the respect for the law and for the rights of others
are the foundation of political order and social peace.
- Provisions relating to the
fundamental rights and liberties recognized by the Constitution shall be
construed in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and
international treaties and agreements thereon ratified by Spain.
With regard to “rights and freedoms,”
the Constitution states:
- Spaniards are equal before the law and may not in any way be
discriminated against on account of birth, race, sex, religion, opinion, or
any other personal or social condition or circumstance.
In relation to “fundamental rights and
public freedoms,” we read:
- Everyone has the right to life and
to physical and moral integrity, and under no circumstances may be subjected
to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.
The death penalty is hereby abolished, except as provided for by military
criminal law in times of war.
And Section 16 of Part I establishes
- Freedom of ideology, religion, and
worship of individuals and communities is guaranteed, with no other
restriction on their expression than may be necessary to maintain public order
as protected by law.
- No one may be compelled to make
statements regarding his or her ideology, religion or beliefs.
- No religion shall have a state
character. The public authorities shall take into account the religious
beliefs of Spanish society and shall consequently maintain appropriate
cooperative relations with the Catholic Church and other confessions.
Section 22 grants the right of
- Associations that pursue ends or
use means legally defined as criminal offences are illegal.
Section 27 deals with education:
- Everyone has the right to education.
Freedom of teaching is recognized.
- Education shall aim at the full
development of human personality, with due respect for the democratic
principle of coexistence, and for basic rights and freedoms.
- The public authorities guarantee
the right of parents to ensure that their children receive religious and moral
instruction in accordance with their own convictions.
- Elementary education is compulsory
- The public authorities shall inspect
and standardize the educational system in order to ensure compliance with the
Estatut d’Autonomia de Catalunya (Self-Governing Statute
The Self-Governing Statute (Estatut
d’Autonomia de Catalunya) is the main proprietary law in Catalonia. Its Section
8 establishes that the citizens of Catalonia have the same rights and duties as
those declared in the Spanish Constitution.
The Religious Liberty Law of Spain
Another law that we must take into
account is the Religious Liberty Law of Spain, passed in July 1980. Article 1 of
this law establishes that:
- The State guarantees the fundamental
right to freedom of worship and religion recognized by the Constitution.
- Religious beliefs shall not cause
unequal or discriminatory treatment under the law. No one may be deprived of
any occupation, or activity, or public position, or employment for reasons of
- No faith shall be the official State
Article 2 guarantees that citizens may:
Profess whatever religious beliefs they freely choose, or profess none at
all; change or relinquish their faith; freely express their own religious
beliefs or lack thereof; or refrain from making any statement in such regard.
part in the liturgy, and receive spiritual
support in their own faith; celebrate their festivities; hold their marriage
ceremonies; receive decent burial, with no discrimination for reasons of
religion; be free from any obligation to receive spiritual support or
participate in religious services that are contrary to their personal
Receive and deliver religious teaching and information of any kind
orally, in writing, or by any other means; and choose
religious and moral education in keeping with their own convictions for
themselves and any non-emancipated minors or legally incompetent persons, in and
outside the academic domain.
Meet or assemble publicly for religious purposes, and form associations
to undertake their religious activities in community in accordance with ordinary
legislation and the provisions of this General Act.
Article 3 establishes that:
- The rights deriving from the
freedom of worship and religion may not be exercised to the detriment of the
rights of others to practice their public freedoms and fundamental rights, or
to the detriment of public safety, health, and morality, elements that
constitute the order ensured under the rule of law in democratic societies.
- Activities, purposes, and entities
relating to or engaging in the study of and experimentation with psychic or
parapsychological phenomena, or the dissemination of humanistic or
spiritualistic values or other similar nonreligious aims do not qualify for
the protection provided in this Act.
European Resolution on Cults
Before I begin with those offences
typified in the Spanish Penal Code that might pertain to cultic phenomena, let
first examine what the European Parliament established about “cults” with its
Resolution on cults in Europe (March 1997). This Resolution:
Reaffirms its attachment to the basic principles of democracy and the
rule of law, such as tolerance, and freedom of conscience, religion, thought,
association, and assembly.
[states] Whereas, many religious and other sects are perfectly legitimate
and are therefore entitled to have their organizations and activities protected
under the guarantees of individual and religious freedom enshrined in the
European Convention of Human Rights.
Whereas, however, some cults operating
through a cross-frontier network within the European Union are engaging in
activities of an illicit or criminal nature and in violations of human rights,
such as maltreatment, sexual abuse, unlawful detention, slavery, the
encouragement of aggressive behavior or propagation of racist ideologies, tax
fraud, illegal transfers of funds, trafficking in arms or drugs, violation of
labour laws, the illegal practice of medicine, and so on, …
Reaffirms the right to freedom of thought,
conscience, and religion, and to freedom of association, subject to the limits
imposed by the need to respect the freedom and privacy of the individual and to
provide protection from practices such as torture, inhuman and degrading
treatment, slavery, and so on; …
- Calls on the member States to
ensure that the legal and police authorities make effective use of existing
legal provisions and instruments at the national level, and cooperate
actively and more closely, particularly within Europol, to combat the
attacks on the fundamental rights of individuals of which certain cults are
This Resolution contains other
provisions that we should consider:
First, there is the problem of
terminology. The terms cult and sect are ambiguous, and there is a
lack of unified criteria among the different European states regarding their
meaning and use. For instance, section E of the Resolution specifies various
cultic illegal activities, some of which, such as trafficking in arms or drugs,
could even be associated with organized crime.
Second, the legislation relative to this
phenomenon is uneven in European Union countries. Some countries have specific
laws or penal regulations; others have not yet considered this problematic issue
in their penal codes. This fact makes cooperative actions among the different
European countries difficult.
Spanish Penal Code
With regard to the Spanish Penal Code,
the following should be considered:
cult and sect do not
appear in the Spanish Penal Code because of their conceptual ambiguity and the
resulting difficulty in juridical application; furthermore, the concept has
religious connotations that could make one think the Code contains a religious
pursuit or discrimination. The Spanish Penal Code does not “criminalize” any
group. On the contrary, one will see that religious freedom is protected in the
Spanish Penal Code. Only when the members of a group or association commit an
offence or crime typified in the Penal Code does the obligation to act exist.
From a criminological point of view, the Code
establishes that the main feature of these destructive groups is the “use” of
mind control techniques.
A specific law for this phenomenon does not
exist in the Spanish Penal Code. Different articles in the Penal Code typify all
the possible offences that could be committed by groups that use mind-control
Let’s now look
at which articles these are. The article that specifically refers to cultic
phenomenon is Article 515.3. This article is included in Chapter IV, Section 1,
in relation to the crimes against the fundamental rights and public freedoms:
Associations will be unlawful that, even with a legal purpose, use violent means
or means that alter or control the personality to achieve their aims.
This article focuses on no ideology,
faith, small group, or religion, but rather on illegal practices. Moreover,
Spanish legislation guarantees religious freedom and no discrimination on that
basis. In this sense, the same Article later says:
Organisations that “incite discrimination, hatred, or violence against
persons, groups, or organisations because of their ideology, religion, or
beliefs, or also race, ethnic origin, or nationality of their members or some of
their members” shall be deemed unlawful.
However, in the same sense, both
religious and non-religious groups that violate this article are likewise
Besides article 515.5, Articles 522
through 526 typify the crimes against freedom of thought, religious beliefs, and
respect for the deceased:
The people who use violence, intimidation, force, or any other illegal means to
prevent a member or members of a confession from developing their own religious
acts are penalized by fine from four to ten months.
The same punishment applies to those who use the same means to force someone to
practice or to attend religious acts, or who force people to reveal their
beliefs, or to change them.
Those who, with violence, threats, or tumult, impede, interrupt, or disturb the
acts, functions, ceremonies, or demonstrations of the religious confessions
entered in the public register of the Justice and Home Affairs Ministry
(Department) are penalized by imprisonment from six months to six years if
the offence is committed in a place destined to religious services, and by fine
from four to ten months if it is committed in any other place.
Those who profane or desecrate a temple or a place destined to religious
services are penalized by imprisonment from six months to one year, or by
fine from four to ten months.
Those who verbally or in writing, with the intention to offend the feelings of a
denomination member, make mockery of the dogmas, the beliefs, and the ceremonies
of a denomination, or hurt the practitioners in public, are penalized by fine
from eight to twelve months.
The same punishment applies for those who in public make mockery of a person who
does not believe in any religion.
Those who violate a sepulchre, or profane a corpse or the ashes, or, with the
intention to outrage, destroy, change, or damage the graves, the mausoleums, the
tombstones, or the niches, are penalized by fine from three to six months and
remain under house arrest from twelve to twenty-four weekends.
As stated above, the main feature that
distinguishes any one criminal group from a mind-control group is the “use of
means or techniques to control or to alter the personality of the citizens.” The
use of these techniques could be applied to other crimes also noted in the
Spanish Penal Code. The analysis of the different types of crime that group
members, especially the leaders of the group, can commit demonstrates a wide
range of potential crimes. For this reason, we will consider only those crimes
that could be most likely related.
People who, by any means or procedure, cause to another person any injury to
his/her physical integrity, or physical or mental health, are penalized by
imprisonment from six months to three years, provided that the injury requires
medical or surgical treatment.
Offences against moral integrity
People who impose upon another person a degrading treatment and seriously damage
his/her moral integrity are penalized by imprisonment from six months to two
- Offences against individual freedom
This chapter is about illegal detentions and kidnappings.
People who deprive someone of his/her freedom of movement are penalized with
imprisonment from four to six years.
Art. 164. The
kidnapping of a person, for which a condition is demanded in exchange for
his/her liberty, is penalized by imprisonment from six to ten years.
This chapter is about threats.
People who threaten another person with the intention to damage him/her, or
his/her family or people closely related to them, are penalized by imprisonment.
This chapter is about coercions.
Those who, without being legally authorised, stop another person, by violence,
from doing something that is not legally prohibited, or force him/her to do
something that he/she does not want to do, are penalized by imprisonment from
six months to three years.
- Crimes against life
People who kill another person are penalized by imprisonment from ten to fifteen
People guilty of instigation, conspiracy, and proposal to commit murder are also
penalized by imprisonment at one or two degrees less than the punishment
established for murderers.
People who induce another person to commit suicide are penalized by imprisonment
from four to eight years.
- Crimes against workers’ rights
Those who use deception or take advantage of a precarious situation to impose on
their workers conditions that prejudice their interests, or suppress or restrict
their rights as recognized by statutory provisions, collective agreements, or
individual contract, are penalized by imprisonment from six months to three
- Crimes against sexual liberty
related to these crimes are Articles 178 through 194. These articles talk about
sexual attacks, crimes related to prostitution, and child corruption.
- Professional intrusion
People who perform acts pertaining to a profession without bearing official
recognition or an academic degree in that profession are penalized by fine from
six to ten months.
- Crimes against the Public Treasury
and the “Welfare and Social Security” system
are discussed in Articles 305 through 310.
- Crimes against property and against
the socio-economic order: swindles
Art. 248. The
people who swindle are those who, with the intention to obtain a profit, use
deception sufficient to induce another person to erroneously make a disposition
that causes loss to himself/herself or to another person.
- Crimes against family rights and
included in Section XII are about illegal marriage, the alteration of paternity
status, crimes against family rights and duties, and the abandonment of family,
children, or disabled relatives.
- Crimes against the Spanish
Constitution: illegal association
Those associations will be unlawful that, even having a legal purpose, use
violent means or means that alter or control the personality of individuals to
achieve their aims.
In this legal framework, we have seen
that freedom of religion and beliefs is assured, as well as the person’s
dignity, moral integrity, and free development of the personality. Thus, the
public freedom of ideology and religion must coexist with the individual’s
The Totalistic Groups Unit of Mossos
d’Esquadra (Catalan Police) began in 1992. However, before this date, the
Catalan Police had been carrying out some investigations with regard to totalist
The name Totalistic Groups chosen for
the unit is not accidental; it responds to a double need. On one hand, the name
is appropriate in the context of the need to ovoid the term sect (cult
in English) because:
The meaning of the terms is ambiguous, and they
have religious connotations.
The terms create difficulty for juridical
The terms carry a social stigmatization load.
On the other hand, the name is relevant
The phenomenon of totalitarianism includes a
wider range of groups with different characteristics than those that pertain
strictly to cults and sects.
It places the focus on illegal group practices.
It was the term used in the First International
Congress about Cults held in Barcelona in 1993.
The main goal of the Totalistic Groups
Unit is the analysis of those groups that could be using mind-control techniques
(to alter or control the personality), primarily in the Catalan territory. But
because many of these groups spread and maintain connections across Europe, it
also is important to know how this phenomenon is developing in the other
The tasks of this Unit are divided into
two action fields: prevention and reaction (response).
Prevention strategies encompass a number
Members of our
Unit have taken part in different radio and TV shows and have also collaborated
in writing some press releases.
We have taken
part, from a police perspective, in the “Research about the Juridical
Implications of the Psychological Manipulation Groups phenomenon.” Because it is
a useful juridical guide, this research is very important to the continuous
education of judges and the development of police tasks.
participating in the Catalan governmental “Commission of study and analysis of
the situation of ‘sects’ in Catalonia.” This Commission is an assessment and
advising organ to the Catalan government in this matter.
We have given
some talks to high-school students and to neighbourhood councils. The objective
of these talks is to share with the population, in the most objective way
possible and without criminalizing any group, the indicators of and potential
risks associated with those groups that are using techniques of mind control.
- Education, training, and information
Because of the
complexity of this phenomenon, knowing the different perspectives of
analysis—juridical, theological, psychological, sociological and
anthropological—is very important. In this sense, we establish contacts with
specialists in this matter and attend specialty conferences and training
“information task,” we have various information sources. On one side, we have
the information obtained from the citizens and from our attendance at different
events or public meetings; on the other, we have the information obtained from
newspapers, magazines, books, TV, and radio programs. There is also
collaboration and cooperation among the various police units and organizations
receives quite a few telephone calls for advice on the matter. We try to obtain
information about the dynamics of the group and determine whether it is
conducting illegal practices.
interview citizens who have had some type of a problem situation with any group.
If this trouble is typified as a crime or offence in our Penal Code, we invite
the individual to make an official complaint.
Reaction tasks are less diversified,
focusing primarily on the investigative process:
The members of
our unit give support and advice to the operative groups that are in charge of
The primary difficulties in the
investigation process are the following:
- The inherent difficulty in proving
psychological manipulation (the means to alter or control the personality)
because of the heterogeneous character of the groups and the varied techniques
used by these groups.
- The difficulty in attaining enough
critical members of the same group to establish patterns of group dynamics and
processes. Generally, the witnesses are relatives or friends of the victim,
but getting direct witnesses is difficult.
- With regard to the psychological
injury crimes, the difficulty in establishing the causal relationship between
group practices and psychological damage.
- The difficulty of carrying out
long-term investigations in groups that are, in general, hermetic.
Spanish legal regulations are enough to
combat the illegal practices of some groups that use techniques of psychological
Multidisciplinary work and investigation
is necessary to improve valid and reliable instruments that demonstrate the
relationship between the wide range of manipulation techniques used by some
groups and the psychological damage or abuse that results from the respective
Within the Spanish legal framework,
freedom of religion and religious beliefs is assured, as well as the person’s
dignity, moral integrity, and free development of the personality. Thus, public
freedom of ideology and religion must coexist with the individual’s fundamental