There is a Will to Harm Freedom of Information

Reporters Without Borders organized a gathering in Paris on Wednesday to demand the immediate release of the investigative journalist who has been questioned by investigators for more than 36 hours for revealing a possible diversion by Egypt of a French intelligence operation in late 2021.

The journalist, Ariane Lavrilleux, has endured a nine-hour raid on her home and more than 37 hours in custody since Tuesday. Several hundred people gathered in Paris, Marseille, and Lyon on Wednesday to demand the “immediate release” of the journalist from Disclose, who was placed in custody after revealing a possible diversion by Egypt of a French intelligence operation in late 2021. “It has been 37 hours since she was placed in custody […] it’s huge,” denounced Magali Serre, the president of Disclose. “There is a desire to discover her source and to harm […] freedom of information,” she continued during the gathering called by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), journalist unions, and Disclose in the late afternoon at Place de la République in Paris. “It is above all a clear message to all French journalists from the state, which says to them: if you investigate state secrets, you risk ending up like Ariane Lavrilleux, in custody.” “We are facing intimidation like we have never seen in recent years,” denounced Emmanuel Poupard, on behalf of the journalist trade unions.

At 6:15 p.m., a group began to form at Place de la République. Members of RSF, Amnesty International, and the Union of Journalists (SNJ) took turns speaking to demand the immediate release of Ariane Lavrilleux and lamented that she is being treated like a criminal simply for doing her job as a journalist.

“Ariane had difficulty contacting her media and her lawyer, which is very serious,” denounces Pavol Szalai, head of RSF’s Europe department. In a calm but determined tone, he tells Libé that his NGO has “alerted internationally about this serious threat to the principle of source protection.” While Ariane Lavrilleux is not the first to be summoned by the DGSI, he says, it is the first time that a raid has lasted nine hours.

“It must not be at all easy to be awakened at 6 a.m. and have your whole apartment turned upside down to find the people who have entrusted their trust in you, in your work,” worries Jules Beaucamp, a recently graduated journalist from Canal Plus. He adds that at least “the profession is united, it’s not pleasant, but it can only warm her heart to know that we are behind her.”

While the speeches continue, punctuated by pauses to chant “Free Ariane!”, journalism students step forward to get an interview. Some of them seem thrilled to be writing their very first report.

The three elected officials who came to support Ariane Lavrilleux are ready to speak. Olivier Faure, the first secretary of the Socialist Party, regrets that “source protection is not completely guaranteed” and believes that there is a need to “legislate to constitutionalize it,” before hoping that it will be done “in the coming weeks.” Green Party deputy Julien Bayou emphasizes that “thanks to journalists and NGOs, we have factual information about what our government is doing.”

“This is not a technical or professional issue,” argues Raquel Garrido, the LFI deputy for Seine-Saint-Denis, “journalists need their sources to access information, and therefore work. And this is corollary to our right to quality information.” She refers us to the history of Chile, which is also her own, and other Latin American countries. Then she asserts: “The right to source protection is an integral part of press freedom. This investigation is of public interest because it reveals information concerning human rights violations.” The treatment of Ariane Lavrilleux “is a textbook case” and “the people need to know the practices of their government,” insists the rebellious elected official. Before addressing the authorities: “By obstructing press rights, you protect impunity and crime. Constitutionalizing source protection would elevate this secret to a higher hierarchical place.”

In Marseille, where the journalist has been in custody since Tuesday, several dozen people also gathered outside the police station. “Here, journalist in the dungeon,” “Information behind bars,” read the signs. “Ariane was only doing her job as a journalist, and for that work, she finds herself in custody, which is absolutely intolerable,” said Pierre Isnard-Dupuy (collective Presse papier), while Leo Purguette, the editor-in-chief of La Marseillaise, denounced a “very serious attack on the right to be informed” for citizens and demanded “the cessation of proceedings against her.” In Lyon, around thirty people gathered in front of the prefecture to show “their solidarity,” said Jean-Pierre Vacher, president of the Lyon Press Club, to AFP.

The custody of Ariane Lavrilleux has also prompted protests from Amnesty International, which has deplored “an attack on journalists […] who are trying to expose the opaque actions of French intelligence services.”

Disclose claimed in an article published in November 2021 that the French intelligence mission “Sirli”, which began in February 2016 on behalf of Egypt in the name of the fight against terrorism, was diverted by the Egyptian state, which used the collected information to carry out airstrikes on suspected smugglers’ vehicles at the Egyptian-Libyan border. Following this publication, the French Ministry of Defense filed a complaint for “violation of national defense secrecy.”

A preliminary investigation was opened in November 2021 before a investigating judge was appointed in the summer of 2022. Disclose clarified on Wednesday that, according to its information, “DGSI investigators reproach the journalist for having signed five articles on French arms sales abroad, published in the media since 2019.” In addition to the one concerning the “Sirli” operation, Disclose mentions articles on “the sale of 30 Rafale aircraft to Egypt,” “weapons delivered to Russia until 2020,” “the sale of 150,000 shells to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE),” and “the transfer of illicit weapons from the UAE to Libya.”

Government spokesperson Olivier Véran refused to answer a question on this matter during the Council of Ministers briefing on Wednesday. Contacted by AFP, the Ministry of Culture did not respond.

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