Any prosecution of these three reporters – Mathias Destal and Geoffrey Livolsi, the founders of the website Disclose, and Radio France’s Benoît Collombat – would constitute a serious press freedom violation, RSF said. The three journalists have been summoned for questioning at DGSI headquarters in Paris on 14 and 15 May in an investigation into a “compromise of national defence secrecy” that the Paris prosecutor’s office has launched in response to a complaint by the armed forces ministry.The summonses state that they are “suspected” of committing or “trying to commit” a violation of national defence secrecy by publishing reports earlier this month about the use of French weaponry in Yemen. Their stories were based on a memorandum from the Directorate for Military Intelligence (DRM) classified “defence-confidential,” which was passed to them by unnamed source.
Under France’s January 2010 law on the protection of sources, journalists have the right to refuse to reveal the identity of their sources and the authorities cannot force them to do so.
“We are concerned that the sole aim of this hearing is to use the threat of prosecution to put pressure on these journalists to reveal their source,” said Paul Coppin, the head of RSF’s legal unit. “As it is legally unable to force them to disclose the identity of their source, the prosecutor’s office is using the possibility of a charge of compromising national defence secrecy, a charge punishable by five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros. The mere fact of threatening such a prosecution for publishing information in the public interest would in itself constitute a serious violation of the public’s right to be informed.”
RSF is of the view that the information revealed by Disclose in its “Made In France” story about the use of French weapons in Yemen is indeed a matter of legitimate public interest, as these weapons could be used in the war crimes that are being committed in the course of this conflict.
France is ranked 32nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.