A woman who recently defected from the Church of Scientology has claimed that she was held against her will and forced to spend almost 12 years touring the Caribbean on a cruise ship owned by the organisation.
Valeska Paris told a TV interviewer that she was 18 when she joined the crew of the Freewinds, a vessel the Church describes as its floating "cathedral" and which once hosted Tom Cruise's birthday party. She alleged that her passport was confiscated, and that, until she was 24, she was prevented from setting foot on dry land without an escort.
The claims were aired by ABC news in Australia, where she currently lives. They have been strongly denied by the Church, who say Ms Paris boarded the ship of her own free will and was perfectly free to leave.
Her troubled relationship with the organisation spans three continents and several decades. Born in Switzerland, to parents who were both involved in Scientology, she moved to the UK at the age of six, and spent her formative years at the Church's headquarters in Sussex.
After turning 14, Ms Paris graduated from the organisation's youth wing, the "Cadet Org" to its senior volunteer wing, the "Sea Org". She signed a contract agreeing to remain a member for the ensuing period of no less than one billion years. Trouble began, she now claims, when her mother defected from Scientology in 1995, and began denouncing it on French television. Ms Paris says church elders then ordered her to "disconnect" from her parent. Read more...