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DOZENS of protests against the Church of Scientology across the US,
Canada and Western Europe are planned today as part of a campaign
organised by the internet group "Anonymous".
Anonymous are a loose collection of internet users, including some
hackers, who declared "war" on the church last month and temporarily
prevented access to at least one official Scientology website.
Members of the group organised a worldwide day of protest to coincide
with the birthday of Lisa McPherson, who died while in the care of a
branch of the church in 1995. Criminal charges filed against the church
over Ms McPherson's death were dropped in 2000.
A demonstration in central Sydney yesterday drew about 150 people, most
of them carrying picket signs and wearing costumes or masks, who accused
the church of financially exploiting its members and suppressing free
Up to 200 people attended a similar demonstration in Melbourne,
roughly half of them wearing masks. Protests were also planned in Perth
The Church of Scientology's Oceania branch condemned the actions of
Anonymous and described the group as "cyber-terrorists".
"Anonymous is perpetrating religious hate crimes against Churches of
Scientology and individual Scientologists for no reason other than
religious bigotry," the church said in a statement.
"It is Anonymous that has repeatedly attempted to suppress free speech
through illegal assaults on church websites so as to prevent internet
users from obtaining information."
Members of the Anonymous group released fresh information in preparation
for the worldwide protests, including the locations of Scientology
churches in the US, UK, Canada and France, restrictions on protesting
behaviour, advice for speaking to the media and a press release
detailing the group's motivations.
One of the guides published online included tips on how to appear
confident when speaking to reporters and asked protestors not to use the
term "raid" to describe the demonstrations.
In an open letter detailing the group's intentions, an Anonymous member
said the protests would be non-violent and were aimed at exposing the
church's "corrupt" leadership.
"Our first major objective is the revocation of (the church's)
tax-exempt status wherever it has managed to obtain one," the letter said.