Berlin, February 4, 2019–The Paris prosecutor’s office should cease its attempts to search the offices of investigative news outlet Mediapart, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. Mediapart reported that police and prosecutors attempted to search its office today as part of an investigation into the outlet’s reporting on the French president’s former top security officer Alexandre Benalla.
“It is vital for a free press that journalists be able to protect confidential sources,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. “Public prosecutors have no business poking around in newsrooms. The authorities should drop plans to apply for a search warrant for Mediapart‘s offices from a judge and let the outlet continue its work of informing the French public about an important and evolving news story uncensored.”
Mediapart refused to consent to the search warrant on the grounds that it could jeopardize its sources, according to reports. The Paris district public prosecution office issued the warrant as part of a preliminary investigation into breach of privacy over a January 31 Mediapart report based on leaked documents and secret audio recordings related to what is referred to in the French press as the “Benalla affair,” according to reports.
Benalla, a security officer for French President Emmanuel Macron, was dismissed in July after video footage published by the daily Le Monde showed him beating a protester during May Day demonstrations in Paris.
Mediapart said that the purpose of the warrant was to find details of the secret recordings used in its reporting. Under the French penal code, search warrants issued as part of a preliminary investigation can be refused, Le Parisian reported. The prosecutors announced that they would now apply for a warrant from the liberties and detention judge, Le Parisien reported.
The Paris public prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment.