A French reporter has been arrested and her home searched in connection with a report two years ago by online media outlet Disclose that said French intelligence was being misused by Egypt, the outlet and the reporter’s lawyer said.
Rights groups condemned the arrest on Tuesday of journalist Ariane Lavrilleux, who authored the report that said French intelligence had been misused by Egypt to target smugglers on the Libyan border and kill civilians. Its publication prompted France’s armed forces minister to call for an investigation.
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Lavrilleux’s lawyer, Virginie Marquet, said her client was being questioned by a judge and police officers from the French intelligence service DGSI as part of an investigation into compromising national security.
“It’s a rather uncommon procedure,” Marquet told Reuters. “It goes up a notch when it comes to coercive measures against journalists.”
The DGSI did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Investigative website Disclose published a series of articles in November 2021 based on hundreds of secret documents.
It said they showed how information from a French counterintelligence operation in Egypt, codenamed “Sirli”, was used by the Egyptian state for “a campaign of arbitrary killings” against smugglers operating along the Libyan border.
On Tuesday, Disclose announced Lavrilleux’s arrest on X, formerly known as Twitter.
It denounced an “unacceptable attack on the secrecy of sources” and said that its reporting “relied on several hundred top secret documents to unveil a campaign of arbitrary executions” orchestrated by Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi “with the complicity of the French state.”
This is a new, unacceptable attack on the confidentiality of sources. pic.twitter.com/SBMFzuXpin
— Disclose (@Disclose_ngo) September 19, 2023
The website’s view was quickly backed by the Society of Journalists and by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“We fear that the DGSI’s actions will undermine the secrecy of the sources,” RSF said.
“I am appalled and worried about the escalation in attacks on the freedom to inform, and the coercive measures taken against the Disclose journalist,” said lawyer Marquet, who is also representing Disclose.
“This search risks seriously undermining the confidentiality of journalists’ sources,” she said, adding that Lavrilleux had “only revealed information of public interest”.
The initial Disclose articles said French forces were complicit in at least 19 bombings against smugglers between 2016 and 2018 in the region.
The documents showed there were warnings from officials within the French government, but the operation was not called into question, Disclose said.
France’s Ministry of the Armed Forces filed a complaint for “violation of national defence secrecy” following the publication of the article, and a case was opened in July 2022 by the Paris prosecutor’s office that was then placed in the hands of the DGSI.
“We’re very worried,” said Katia Roux of Amnesty France. “To put in police custody a journalist for doing her job, moreover for revealing information of public interest, could be a threat to freedom of the press and confidentiality of sources.”
RSF and other rights groups also released statements condemning the arrest.