Outcry grows as eight journalists summoned by French intelligence services
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Eight journalists have been summoned for questioning by France’s domestic intelligence services, including five new summonses revealed Wednesday, prompting outcry from press freedom advocates.
Eight journalists, including a senior Le Monde reporter who last year broke the story of a top security aide to President Emmanuel Macron beating a May Day protester, have so far been summoned for questioning by France’s domestic intelligence services, according to Le Monde and other news outlets.
The president of Le Monde’s board of directors, Louis Dreyfus, was also summoned, according to the paper. The new summonses come after three other reporters were called in for questioning in April.
Senior Le Monde reporter Ariane Chemin, who broke the story that senior Macron security aide Alexandre Benalla had been filmed beating a protester while wearing a police helmet, was called in for questioning by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) over her revelations in what became known as the Benalla affair, Le Monde’s editorial director Luc Bronner wrote in the paper Wednesday. The Élysée Palace faced accusations of covering up the incident by failing to report Benalla or demand his resignation, provoking one of the biggest scandals of the Macron presidency to date.
Chemin and Dreyfus were told by the DGSI to appear on May 29, Le Monde says. The investigation specifically concerns details the paper published about former air force officer Chokri Wakrim.
Wakrim, according to a February report in the newspaper Libération, helped arrange a private security contract between Benalla and a Russian oligarch last year. Media revelations over the Russian contract prompted a corruption investigation to be opened against Wakrim, who had already faced scrutiny along with his partner Marie-Elodie Poitout over hosting Benalla at their home last July. Poitout, former head of security at Prime Minister Édouard Philippe’s office, resigned her post after the July meeting, though she insisted Benalla was only invited as a friend.
The latest twist came in mid-April when Wakrim filed a counter-complaint in the case, which Le Monde says is the basis for the current summons against Chemin. According to investigators, the senior reporter is being questioned over the “revelation of the identity of a member of the special forces”.
Bronner expressed concern over the summons in his editorial. “The public interest requires [journalists] to be able to investigate the connections maintained by collaborators of the Élysée or Matignon (the prime minister’s office),” he wrote.
The new summons “is all the more worrying as it follows a similar procedure used very recently against other journalists”, Bronner added.
Summons over French arms used in Yemen
The investigative website Disclose also said Wednesday that one of its journalists had been summoned over articles detailing how French arms sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were being used in Yemen's civil war.
This followed earlier summonses for two of its journalists, as well as that of a Radio France reporter who contributed to the Disclose investigation. The three journalists denounced “intimidation tactics” on the part of the DGSI after they were called in for questioning.
Journalist Michel Despratx was also called in as a “witness” on Wednesday, bringing the total number summoned in connection with the outlet’s Yemen investigation to four. In a Twitter statement, Disclose decried the summonses as a new attempt by authorities to bypass France’s 1881 law on freedom of the press and the protection of sources.
Valentine Oberti, a journalist from TV news show Quotidien, had also been called in for questioning by the DGSI in February, she told the show’s viewers Wednesday. She said she was summoned along with a sound engineer and video reporter working on the show. Their summonses were also in connection with revelations about French arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Journalists, politicians denounce attack on press freedom
This series of summonses has provoked widespread outcry from journalists and press freedom activists. In a statement released Wednesday, the editorial offices of more than 30 different outlets said that “military secrecy cannot be opposed to the right to information, which is essential for a proper public debate; nor can it be held over journalists as a sword of Damocles to deter them from investigating and publishing”.
Journalists’ unions also expressed their support for the reporters under investigation. The SNJ-CGT denounced another “intolerable turn of the knife against journalism and freedom of information”, while the CFDT-Journalistes said the procedure “tacitly aimed to stifle journalists in the exercise of their mission to inform the public”.
The National Union of Journalists (SNJ), for its part, asked: “Will the DGSI start summoning all journalists who reveal information that those in power don’t like?”
Opposition politicians also weighed in. Socialist Party (PS) spokesperson Boris Vallaud said he was “very concerned by the proliferation of these types of summonses”, calling them a “disturbing drift in the practices of power”.
Jean-Pierre Sueur, another PS member who leads a senatorial commission investigating the Benalla affair, likewise expressed his concern.
Hozever, Élysée spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye expressed the “government’s commitment to freedom of the press” while adding that “journalists are subject to the law like anyone else” and that “no one in France is outside the law”.
She declined to comment specifically on the Chemin case, citing an ongoing investigation.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)