PARIS - Four former members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church went on trial for torture Monday over a violent, crucifixion-style exorcism carried out on a 19-year-old woman.
Three men and a woman are accused of tying up the Cameroonian teenager in the position of Christ on the cross and keeping her bound to a mattress for seven days in the belief that her body had been possessed by the devil.
The four, including the victim's former boyfriend, were charged with kidnapping, acts of torture and barbarism.
When police discovered the woman at a housing estate in Grigny in the southern Paris suburbs, she was emaciated, dehydrated, in a state of shock and showed signs of having been beaten.
The victim later testified that her captors had kept her alive by feeding her small amounts of oil and water.
Her former boyfriend, Eric Deron, is accused of being the instigator of the assault and, according to prosecutors, had delusions of being a sort of prophet on a divine mission.
According to statements made by the accused, the exorcism was organised after the victim allegedly leapt on Deron whilst babbling incomprehensibly, an attack he took as evidence she had been possessed by the devil.
The four accused, who are all of French Caribbean origin, deny any acts of violence against the woman and say she had consented to the exorcism.
Their lawyer, Jacques Bourdais, said the four had acted in good faith. "To them, she was possessed, that is why they did not call a doctor. You call a doctor when someone is sick, when someone is possessed you exorcise them," Bourdais told AFP.
Antoinette met her alleged assailants three years before the 2011 attack through the Seventh Day Adventists, a US-based millennialist Protestant church which has millions of followers worldwide but only 13,000 in France.
The church says the people involved in the case were all expelled a year before the alleged attack and has stressed that exorcism of this kind cannot be justified by any of its teachings.
The trial is due to run until Friday.