RSF urges the French authorities to immediately release an investigative journalist

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Ariane Lavrilleux, an investigative reporter who has been held by the French police since early yesterday (19 September), when her home was searched. Inasmuch as her arrest and the search are almost certainly linked to her investigation, they constitute a serious attempt of the confidentiality of journalists' sources.

Ariane Lavrilleux, who works for Disclose, a French investigative website nominated for the RSF Press Freedom Prize in the Impact category in 2020, had spent more than 30 hours in police custody at the time of writing. She is being held for allegedly violating national defence secrets and revealing information that could lead to the identification of "a protected agent". Her home was searched for more than ten hours.

"If Ariane Lavrilleux was arrested and her home was searched because of her legitimate activity as a journalist, which we have every reason to believe, then this is a serious attempt of the confidentiality of journalists' sources. Under the law, the protection of journalists' sources may be lifted in cases of an overriding public interest, but this must be applied in a strictly proportionate manner, which is clearly not the case here. We demand her immediate release.

Pavol Szalai
Head of RSF's EU-Balkans desk

Ariane Lavrilleux's arrest by the General Directorate of Internal Security (DGSI) is part of a judicial investigation launched by the Paris prosecutor's office in July 2022. It follows a complaint lodged by the Ministry of Armed Forces accusing Disclose of violating national defence secrets in a series of articles in 2021, entitled the “Egypt Papers”, co-written by Lavrilleux.

According to Disclose, the prosecutor's office is investigating the journalist in connection with a total of five articles that she has written about French defence policy abroad since 2019, including one about France's "Operation Sirli" in Egypt that was part of the “Egypt Papers.”

In recent years, the French authorities have often put pressure on journalists investigating sensitive subjects with the aim of forcing them to disclose their sources. In 2019, several journalists working on arms sales by France, including Geoffrey Livolsi, Mathias Destal and Michel Despratx of Disclose, were summoned for questioning by intelligence officers. 

The pressure was stepped up last year when the journalist Alex Jordanov was subjected to the same disproportionate methods as Ariane Lavrilleux after writing a book about the DGSI. He was taken into police custody and then placed under investigation for “disclosing defence secrets,” “complicity in the violation of professional secrecy,” “complicity in the violation of the confidentiality of a judicial investigation” and “revealing information allowing the identification of a source.”

Two journalists of La Nouvelle République and Le Télégramme were also investigated in two other different cases for the same reasons, and were summoned for questioning by the DGSI this year.

A demonstration in support of Ariane Lavrilleux, co-organized by RSF, will take place on Wednesday September 20 at 6.30pm, Place de la République in Paris.

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