Moscow (AFP) - A Russian court on Monday banned the activities of the Moscow branch of the Church of Scientology, in the latest round in a long-running battle between the Russian authorities and the US-based organisation, Russian news agencies reported.
The Moscow City Court backed a justice ministry request to shutter the church in Moscow after authorities argued in part that since the Church of Scientology had registered its name as a US trademark, it cannot call itself a religious organisation, Russian news wires said.
The word Scientology is a registered US trademark, according to the Church's website.
"The suit filed by the ministry of justice for the liquidation must be enacted," Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted judge Mikhail Kazakov as saying.
The church slammed the court decision and pledged to appeal to Russia's supreme court.
"When decisions like this are handed down, actually everyone loses, and this decision affects not only the Church of Scientology of Moscow. This decision is a sign of disease in the justice system," the church's Moscow branch said in a statement.
"The court upheld what representatives of the Church believe to be a biased policy pursued by the Ministry of Justice toward the Church of Scientology of Moscow."
Russia's justice ministry has long been pushing to prohibit the organisation, which some countries treat as a legitimate faith but others consider to be a cult.
The ruling by a Moscow City Court came after a lower-level district court rejected the church's appeal against a justice ministry's decision not to register it as a religious organisation.
The Russian justice ministry registers religious organisations as well as NGOs, a requirement for them to operate.
In August, Moscow investigators said separately that they had opened a criminal probe after finding hidden microphones and cameras in the Moscow church's premises.
The Scientology Church was founded in the United States in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and was accorded the status of religion there in 1993.
The European Court of Human Rights has several times ruled in favour of the church, saying that Russia violated its rights by refusing to register its churches in various regions.
Prominent scientologists include Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta.