Rights Court OKs France Extradition of Romanian Yoga Guru

The court ruled against Gregorian Bivolaru, whose controversial spiritual organization has 40,000 members across more than 10 countries. 

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. (Photo via CherryX/Wikipedia)

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday handed down a ruling in a joint case of two men on the run from Romanian authorities, finding France wrongly extradited one but not the leader of a yoga-based religious organization. 

The ECHR found that France was right to attempt to execute a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) for Gregorian Bivolaru – the founder of the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute, which practices “tantric eroticism” – because the charges he faced were not political in nature. In an unrelated but joined case, the court ruled France erred in not considering the conditions of the prison Codrut Moldovan would serve his time in. 

“The executing judicial authorities have verified that the request for the execution of the EAW has not had not been issued with a discriminatory purpose, and in particular because of the political opinions of the person concerned. They ensured that the applicant’s request for surrender was based solely on the execution of the sentence handed down against him for a common law offense,” the Strasbourg-based court wrote in regards to Bivolaru’s case, in a ruling only available in French. 

The underlying crimes committed by the two Romanian nationals were not related, but the legal questions over the arrest warrants were similar enough for the ECHR to join them. Under the EAW system, warrants issued by any European Union member states are valid across all countries in the 27-member political and economic union. 

Bivolaru founded his group in the 1990s, calling for followers to practice yoga and shed their sexual inhibitions. At the time, yoga was outlawed in Romania for its alleged religious connections. Bivolaru was jailed repeatedly and involuntarily committed to psychiatric institutions for practicing yoga as well as distributing pornography. 

People who have left the organization claim that Bivolaru forced them to turn over their life savings to him and have sex with each other, and him, at his command. Young female members said they were forced to work as strippers and appear in hardcore porn films. In 2013, he was convicted in absentia for having sex with a minor. 

His prosecution by the communist regime in Romania led human rights campaigners, inducing Amnesty International, to support him. In 2005, Sweden granted him political asylum. 

Bivolaru was arrested in France in 2016 while traveling on forged Bulgarian identity documents. He fought his extradition, claiming he would be tortured for his religious beliefs if he was forced to return to Romania. 

Unrelated to the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute, Moldovan was convicted of human trafficking in 2015 for forcing six people, including a child, to beg for him. Vulnerable people, especially women and children, are often forced to beg by criminal enterprises in Romania. The 69-year old was living in France and refused to return to serve his sentence, so in 2016 the Romanian authorities issued an EAW and he was picked up by French police.

Moldovan contested his extradition, arguing that he would face inhumane treatment or even torture of he was forced to return. He was set to serve his seven-year sentence in Gherla Prison. Located in north east Romanian, the prison is notorious for holding political opponents of the communist regime. 

According to the ECHR’s seven-judge panel, Gherla Prison “is experiencing an endemic rate of prison overcrowding and that, in such a situation, the lack of personal space constitutes the central element to be taken into account.” The court found French authorities did not consider the overcrowding when approving Moldovan’s extradition and awarded him 5,000 euros ($5,900) in damages and 2,520 euros ($3,000) for expenses. Moldovan was returned to Romania in 2016 and has been incarcerated since.  

However, in Bivolaru’s case, the court found that France had taken the appropriate precautions before agreeing to extradite him.

“Nothing in the investigation from the executing judicial authority or information brought by the applicant before the court indicates that he was still in danger, in the event of surrender, of being persecuted for religious reasons in Romania,” the Fifth Chamber wrote. 

Bivolaru was granted a conditional release while awaiting the outcome of his case in 2017. His current whereabouts are unknown and he’s also wanted by Finnish authorities for sexual assault and human trafficking. 

The court was established in 1959 by the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the civil and political rights of the citizens of the 47 European member states that are parties to the treaty.  

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