French intelligence summons journalists after release of classified report on arms in Yemen
Three journalists face questioning next month by France’s domestic intelligence agency after releasing a classified report detailing French weapons being used in Yemen. In a statement on Thursday, 37 news outlets voiced support for their colleagues.
The 15-page report by France's DRM(Direction du renseignement militaire) military intelligence agency showed that French arms, including tanks and laser-guided missile systems sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are being used by a Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The conflict has so far claimed 10,000 lives and displaced more than 3 million others, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
The document – which was intended to be seen by French President Emmanuel Macron and only a small handful of ministers – was leaked to the independent investigative website Disclose, which published it in full on April 15, thereby drawing a new round of publicscrutiny of French involvement in the war in Yemen.
THREADDisclose (@Disclose_ngo) April 18, 2019
This is a ‘Caesar’ cannon made in France, sold to Saudi Arabia, and that is shelling civilian zones in #Yemen.
Who builds those cannons? How France delivers them to Saudi Arabia? Have they killed civilians in Yemen?
Disclose investigated. Here are our answers. pic.twitter.com/QAlrYOJGgv
French Defence Minister Florence Parly moved swiftly to put the issue to rest, disavowing the information contained in the report a few days later.
“To my knowledge, French weapons are not being used in any offensive in the war in Yemen. I do not have any evidence that would lead me to believe that French arms are behind the origins of civilian victims,” Parly said on April 18.
Yet in a twist, the three journalists responsible for releasing the document – Geoffrey Livolsi, Mathias Destal and Benoît Collombat – were summoned earlier this week to appear before the DGSI (Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure) domestic intelligence agency on May 14 for questioning.
It was revealed on Wednesday that prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation on December 13 into the possible “compromise of national defence secrets” following a complaint by the defence ministry.
‘An attack on the freedom of the press’
Livolsi, Destal and Collombat’s summons have stoked fears that protections for journalists who shield anonymous sources and whistleblowers may be under threat.
“The classified documents published by Disclose and its partners are of major public interest,” Disclose said in a statement on Wednesday. “Let’s be clear, this police investigation is an attack on the freedom of the press.”
France's domestic intelligence agency has summoned two journalists from @Disclose_ngo in an investigation into the "compromise of national defence secrecy" after our revelations. It's an unprecedent attack on press. @theintercept @gijn @cijournalism @pressfreedom pic.twitter.com/MuR5uD9r2iDisclose (@Disclose_ngo) April 24, 2019
Although they have not yet been indicted, the three men could face time in prison if found guilty of compromising national defence secrets.
“Basically, questioning us in a non-custodial interview means that we can be detained later, but it is also a way to discover our sources,” Livolsi told FRANCE 24’s sister station Radio France Internationale (RFI) on Thursday. “And that’s the crux of their investigation; they’re seeking to undo protections for journalists’ sources.”
Livolsi, Destal and Collombat have vowed to protect their sources, setting up a battle that could have broader implications for French news media.
“(Our line of defence) will be very clear: We will cite the right of journalists to protect their sources. We are going to exercise our right to remain silent and not divulge information about sources,” Livolsi said.
Thirty-seven major French news organisations have since voiced their support for the three men in a joint statement published on Thursday.
“We express our whole and full solidarity with our colleagues, who were only doing their jobs: bringing information of public interest to citizens on the consequences of French arm sales,” the statement said.
“We stuck to the facts, and only the facts. And I think that’s in part why we have so much professional support,”Livolsi said. “But it’s also because this is an unprecedented attack on the right to disseminate information, and on the public’s right to be informed.”