Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

FRENCH authorities are planning a crackdown on communities like those involved in the Alex Batty case.

It comes after an 86 per cent rise in reports of cults over the past eight years.

Friends of Alex Batty on Facebook include people who appear to live off-grid and practice rituals and meditationSupplied

French Minister for Citizenship and Urban Development Sabrina Agresti-Roubache commented on the growth of cults in the countryRex Features

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has proposed legislation to fight “cultish deviation”.

This includes the introduction of a new offence of exercising “psychological control” — which comes with a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

The Interministerial Mission for the Vigilance and the Fight Against Cultish Deviation — a French government agency which is dedicated to monitoring cult movements — said it had 4,020 reports of such communities operating in the country in 2021.

This is 33 per cent up on 2020 and 86 per cent higher than in 2015.

Sabrina Agresti-Roubache, France’s Citizenship and Urban Development Minister, believes the numbers are due to a growth in communities promising alternative healthcare and personal development.

She told The Times: “There has been a multitude of groups in the sectors of health, food and wellbeing, but also personal development, coaching and training.”

Covid lockdowns are understood to have contributed to the move towards alternative therapies, with cult leaders exploiting people’s isolation and calling into question the science and credibility of health authorities.

The new proposals will also make endangering life by encouraging someone to avoid healthcare — such as ditching cancer treatment — an offence, carrying a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

French officials say many of these types of cults are international and travel between countries to avoid being caught by authorities.

There is no evidence to suggest Alex Batty suffered any physical or mental abuse at the hands of the “spiritual community” he was living with, and the lad is reported to be in good health.

But prosecutors are likely to be working to determine whether children in the community — whose members lived in tents, caravans and rental accommodations — were given adequate education and access to healthcare, according to French media reports.

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