UPDATE: The Village Voice has an extended interview with Valeska Paris, which you can read here.
For most people, an extended stay aboard a luxury cruise liner sounds like a dream vacation.
But Valeska Paris says she was held against her will aboard the Scientology cruise ship "Freewinds" for more than a decade. During her stay on the vessel, she alleges, she was forced into hard labor and never allowed to leave the ship without an escort.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC News) Lateline program, Paris claims that Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige sent her to the ship when she was 18 in order to prevent her family from pulling her out of the organization.
"I was basically hauled in and told that my mum had attacked the church and that I needed to disconnect from her because she was suppressive," she said. "He decided the ship, and I found out two hours before my plane left, I was woken up in the morning and I was sent to the ship for 'two weeks.' "
Paris was born into a Scientology family, but her mother quit the group after her husband committed suicide, blaming Scientology for coercing him out of a self-made personal fortune of more than a million dollars.
Instead of the promised two week stay, Paris found herself unable to leave the ship without an official Scientology escort and was often forced into hard labor on the lower levels of the ship for stretches as long as two full days. "It's hot, it's extremely loud, it's smelly, it's not nice. I was sent down there at first for 48 hours straight on almost no sleep and I had to work by myself," she said.
So, why didn't Paris simply escape from the ship when it would take port? The Freewinds has a relatively small sailing route, traveling throughout the Caribbean and occasionally docking at small islands.
"I did not want to be there, I made it clear I did not want to be there and that was considered bad ethics, meaning it was considered not right," she said. "They take your passport when you go on the ship and you're in the middle of an island. So it's a bit hard [to escape] and by that time I was 18, I'd been in Scientology my whole life, it's not like I knew how to escape," she said.
The Church of Scientology calls Paris' claims false but declined ABC requests to make church officials available for interviews for the story. The church, which has a well-known litigious history, threatened Lateline with legal action for taking part in an alleged breach of confidentiality between Paris and the church. In a statement, the Church of Scientology said Ms Paris' claims were false.
"She certainly wasn't 'forced' to be there. She was also never forced to perform labor in the engine room," the statement said. "The Freewinds is a wonderful place, as even Valeska said on numerous occasions. Her allegation that she could only leave the ship with an escort is totally false."
(UPDATE # 2 CON'T):
The Church of Scientology has released a statement to Yahoo! News refuting what it says are false claims made in the Australian and Village Voice reports. In its statement, the church claims that Guider was a volunteer crew member of the Freewinds and was never held against her will. Here is the relevant except from the statement:
Valeska Guider was serving as a crew member aboard the Freewinds religious retreat as a volunteer, adult religious worker. She was there of her own free will as part of her religious commitment to the Church of Scientology. The Freewinds is a passenger vessel with hundreds of people aboard. Ms. Guider's staff positions as a waitress, course instructor and staff counselor regularly placed her in contact with many parishioners and staff. She met and married her first husband there to whom she was married from 1998-2005 and who affirms her statements are false. She left the Freewinds hundreds of times to go shopping, for outings with her husband on islands such as St. Kitts, Aruba, St. Barts and Curaçao, as well as for numerous other reasons. She participated in extended trips to the UK, US and Denmark for which she passed through Immigration and Customs when entering and exiting these countries. Her claims are false.
Other popular Yahoo! News stories: