France has been turning up the heat on journalists who expose government wrongdoing, according to AFP.
The latest, Le Monde journalist Ariane Chemin, said was questioned by French security services for 45 minutes after she refused to reveal her sources for a report exposing alleged corruption and cronyism within President Emmanuel Macron's inner circle.
"They asked me many questions on the manner in which I checked my information, which was an indirect way of asking me about my sources," said Chemin - who wrote a series of articles on Macron's former bodyguard Alexandre Benalla, who was fired after video emerged of Benalla roughing up a protester. The incident, and Chemin's ongoing reporting, resulted in a spate of resignations by government officials.
According to AFP, Le Monde's managing director, Louis Dreyfus, was also questioned by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) on Wednesday. "Everything is done to make it intimidating," Dreyfus wrote in an editorial describing his own DGSI interrogation.
"I explained that I never read the articles before they were published, and that I was not meant to do so. And they kept telling me that the offense was punishable by five years in prison and a fine of €75,000."
In total, the French secret service has summoned eight reporters who have published negative stories on the government, including French arms being sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE used in Yemen's civil war. Aside from Chemin, the others involved are Geoffrey Livolsi, Mathias Destal and Michel Despratx of the investigative news site Disclose; France Inter’s Benoît Collombat; and Valentine Oberti of the TV news show Quotidien along with a Quotidien cameraman and a Quotidien sound technician, according to Reporters Without Borders.
DGSI interrogated the Disclose journalists earlier this month - threatening them with five-year prison sentences under a 2009 law prohibiting "attacks on national defense secrets" over the publication of a classified document suggesting that the French government was willingly violating a 2014 arms treaty.
"We fear that the authorities are using these summonses in an attempt to intimidate the journalists and their news organizations and to identify their sources so as to punish them or deter them," said RSH secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
"Investigative journalism is now in danger in France because it is under attack and, in particular, it is threatened with legal proceedings. If the confidentiality of journalists’ sources is not guaranteed in a country, if it is undermined by such actions as these, its citizens will be deprived of their right to non-official information. We call on the government to explain the domestic intelligence agency’s apparent attempts to intimidate the media."
In response to the investigations, the SNJ-CGT union called for a demonstration outside of the DGSI headquarters Wednesday "in support of those journalists summoned by the French state in violation of the law on press freedom."
Not a threat?
French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told the French Senate on Wednesday that the summons should "in no way be seen as an attempt at intimidation or a threat," and that the summons of Chemin was simply part of a preliminary inquiry following a complaint by a special forces member whose identity was revealed by the paper.
Senior journalists from 37 French media outlets, including Agence France-Presse, Le Figaro daily, France 2 TV and Mediapart, signed a statement supporting the journalists who were questioned over the Yemen controversy, saying they were "just doing their jobs". -AFP
Disclose, meanwhile, has pressed ahead with its Yemen reporting, claiming that a shipment of munitions for French Caesar cannons would be loaded onto a Saudi ship through a Mediterranean port.
Last year, France passed a law allowing the government to shut down any news agency for four months before an election if it could be deemed "under foreign influence."