In the first article of this series, I discussed the cooperation between the special anti-trafficking Argentinian agency PROTEX and the professional anti-cultist Pablo Salum.
This article was originally published by Bitter Winter under the title “Anti-Cult Repression in Argentina 2. PROTEX and Pablo Salum” (18 August 2023)
It is time for the U.S. Department of State, USCIRF, and other international institutions to condemn human rights and freedom of religion abuses by PROTEX.
The latter’s favorite technique is to interview and weaponize so-called “survivors” and victims of any religious or belief community, that he labels with the magic repulsive word “cult,” and to publicize their—unverified—declarations on YouTube and social media. These disgruntled former members are supposed to reflect the hidden, true horrible face of various religious or belief groups, including inside mainline religions. The style is tabloid and populist. The objective is to be a source of breaking news, create the buzz and draw attention to his own person.
Anybody wanting to settle scores with a religious or belief movement he or she had problems with, directly or indirectly, is welcome on the YouTube channel of Salum, as it was also the case with a former member of the Soka Gakkai, a Japanese Buddhist movement.
Pablo Salum also directed PROTEX to attack the Christian lay movement “Cómo vivir por fe” (How to Live by Faith), the Argentinian branch of the Australian new religious movement “Jesus Christians” making a vow of poverty. The manipulation by Salum of a former member raising the spectre of forced organ donation was denounced by the Argentinian judge who found no crime in the case, as Bitter Winter found out after some serious investigation.
In July last, PROTEX raided 38 centers of the well-known Evangelical NGO REMAR. Pablo Salum boasts, rightly or not, that he was “involved” in the operation but what is sure is that this crackdown in Argentina created a scandal in the Evangelical community internationally. REMAR is indeed a respected NGO specialized in the rehabilitation of drug addicts and (paradoxically) women victims of real trafficking. In several countries, REMAR cooperates with the government. In Argentina, PROTEX claims that what they do is “trafficking”…
The harmful influence of Pablo Salum on religious tolerance in Argentina should not be underestimated.
On 1 August, a “collective of organizations and individuals fighting for the eradication of human trafficking in Argentina,” the “Stop Human Trafficking Network” (Red Alto al Tráfico y la Trata – RATT), organized and transmitted on the Senate’s TV channel a conference titled “Cults and Human Trafficking” (“Sectas y trata de personas”) which is now available on YouTube. The conference was held in a room of the Senate and there were approximately 100 people in the audience, plus the people watching the TV channel. The speakers were the senator who hosted the event, Dr Daniel Bensusán; the authorities of the RATT, Viviana Caminos and Nancy Rodriguez; both the former (Zaida Gatti) and the new (Norma Mazzeo) coordinators of the “National Program for the Rescue and Accompaniment of Victims Affected by the Crime of Trafficking in Persons”; a lawyer sponsoring victims of human trafficking, Dr Sebastian Sal; a “survivor” of the Opus Dei and, closing the conference, Pablo Salum.
Salum’s destructive role in the PROTEX operation against the Buenos Aires Yoga School (BAYS)
On 12 August 2022, PROTEX worked in tandem with police SWAT teams and with Pablo Salum when it launched a military-style police raid on the BAYS members-owned building, starting with the cafe on the ground floor.
Carlos Barragán, a professional stage magician, who was arrested and detained for about three months until all the charges against him were suddenly dropped, explained in an interview in Buenos Aires with Susan Palmer, an Affiliate Professor in the Religions and Cultures Department at Concordia University in Montreal (Canada) and director of the Children in Sectarian Religions and State Control project at McGill University (Canada), supported by the Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC): “Pablo Salum had told PROTEX that I had in my house—in my ‘bunker’ (as Salum calls it)—all the blackmail material for the extortion of rich men who were offered our women. He said videos of sex acts were taken so that we could extort money from them. So, the police smashed their way into my house and stole over 4,000 VHS, expecting to find blackmail material, but of course, all they found were my historic collection of magic shows, and the VHS series on our philosophy classes in BAYS.”
This incident has destroyed the magician’s whole career. “Lie, lie and there will always be something left,” according to the saying.
Five women older than 50 years, three in their forties and one in mid-thirties were surprisingly said by the state agency PROTEX to have been victims of sexual exploitation by BAYS. The nine women vividly denied they had ever been prostitutes and exploited as such by BAYS. They are currently trying to sue the two PROTEX prosecutors in charge of the case.
A false victim (45 years) of alleged sexual exploitation, from a Jewish family, graduated from university with a MBA and who has been working for years in his father’s TV production company, told Susan Palmer: “Pablo Salum posted photographs of me and my dad and some of our employees at the TV station on Twitter. One woman resigned because she feared her image would be tainted working with us. My boyfriend, he lost his job in the real estate company, and he is now trying to rebuild his career. He started a new realtor business, he has a degree in this field. The mother of my boyfriend was one of those accused of human trafficking.”
The fabricated accusations also ruined the professional activities of other false victims and in several cases disturbed their relations with their partners.
US human rights reports and Argentina
Yet, it seems that the Argentinian authorities prioritize the instrumentalization of the BAYS case to endorse the dangerous brainwashing pseudoscience theory rejected by the academic world.
Argentina has the best ranking of the 2023 US Annual Report on Trafficking in Persons and an institution like PROTEX is undoubtedly necessary to combat labor trafficking and sexual exploitation. Yet, it is difficult to understand why the Argentinian authorities, and PROTEX in particular, go on using as a source an anti-cult activist who is now known for using defamatory hate speech against a wide range of religious and belief groups, spreading fake information and all sorts of lies about them with dramatic consequences for his victims.
The US also has other state mechanisms monitoring the harmful activities of anti-cult activists, such as the Department of State and USCIRF (US Commission on International Religious Freedom).
On 24 July 2023, USCIRF published a report titled “Religious Freedom Concerns about Religious Freedom in the European Union” in which a section was devoted to the anti-cult issue and was stressing that “Several governments in the EU have supported or facilitated the propagation of harmful information about certain religious groups.” This is also the case with Argentina.
BAYS, as a philosophical belief system, can legitimately claim that it should be protected by Article 18 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on freedom of religion or belief.
The US Annual State Department Report on Religious Freedom around the world and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) should grant more attention to anti-religious hate speech in Argentina. Both the US Department of State and USCIRF are in the best position to warn PROTEX against their questionable implementation of the national Law No 26.842 on Prevention and Punishment of Human Trafficking and Assistance to Victims and the creation of false victims, such as in the BAYS case.
*Academic articles on the BAYS case:
By Massimo Introvigne: “The Great Cult Scare in Argentina and the Buenos Aires Yoga School.”