Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Tuesday evening that French police are checking alleged links between the suicide of Kaja Bordevich Ballo, age 20, and the Scientologists.
Ballo's father, Olav Gunnar Ballo, is a member of the Norwegian Parliament for the Socialist Left (SV), and he's gone public with both his daughter's suicide and the circumstances surrounding it. He's won support from fellow politicians in Norway.
"All indications are that the Scientologist sect has played a direct role in Kaja's choice to take her own life," another member of parliament, Inga Marte Thorkildsen, and an acquaintance of the younger Ballo, told Oslo newspaper Dagbladet.
Kaja Ballo's family and friends claim she was in good humour, had many friends and was enjoying French studies in Nice until Friday March 28, when she was invited into a storefront Scientology center near the student housing complex where she lived.
A fellow student claimed on national television that she "changed" after the meeting and the receipt of results of a controversial personality test she was given by the Scientologists. She killed herself a few hours later.
Her uncle, Heljar Ballo, said in a nationally televised debate program on NRK Tuesday night that the test results were "devastating." She left a note with the test results, but he declined to comment on the note's contents.
"We can only relate the facts, that she was doing well in France, was happy and had many good friends, and that she took this test," Heljar Ballo said. He confirmed that his niece had suffered a serious eating disorder when she was 13 years old, and had received both professional help and help from family and friends.
Vigorous denials from the church
A spokesman for the Scientologists rejected any links between the test and the suicide, and said any accusations that the church was responsible for her suicide were "deeply unfair."
Matthias Fosse, information chief for the Church of Scientology in Norway, said the test isn't "dangerous," noting that "millions" of people have taken it. He claimed no one lured Ballo into taking the test, and that he was told she'd walked on her own into the Scientologists' locale in Nice.
He also pointed to Ballo's earlier eating disorder and suggested that she had a history of psychiatric problems.
Her uncle claimed she was fully recovered from problems she'd had as a young teen seven years ago. Her father blasted Fosse's remarks, telling newspaper VG that the Scientologists were tarnishing his daughter's memory and showing utter disregard for her private medical history.
'Break you down, build you up,' for a fee
Psychologist Rudy Myrvang said a test like the one administered by the Scientologists is not constructive, and rather aimed "at breaking you down, and then they'll offer to build you up again." It's a recruitment tool, he said, and a means of generating future income for the church.
A church critic, Andreas Heldal-Lund, agreed, claiming the Scientologists viewed people like Ballo as "'raw meat from the street.' You're told you're worth nothing."
Fosse rejected such claims, and denied the church preys on young, impressionable people.
The Church of Scientology was established in Norway in 1977. It says it has around 200 active members in Norway today and that around 8,000 persons in Norway have taken part in its activities.
Heljar Ballo said his family had opted to go public with Kaja Ballo's suicide in an effort to shed light on what happened. He said the family "had confidence" in the French police, and their investigation. Ballo's father, the Norwegian MP, has also hired a lawyer to pursue the matter.
Kaja Bordevich Ballo was buried at Grefsen Church in Oslo last Friday. Nearly 500 persons attended her funeral.
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