Berlin, May 23, 2019 — The General Directorate for Internal Security, France’s domestic intelligence agency, should immediately withdraw summons for questioning issued to journalists Ariane Chemin and Michel Despratx, and Le Monde publisher Louis Dreyfus, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The directorate has summoned at least four other journalists in recent months, according to news reports.
“It is essential for journalists to be able to freely report on cases involving national security without being harassed by intelligence agencies, yet the number being harassed has sharply increased,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “The General Directorate for Internal Security should withdraw its summonses to Ariane Chemin, Louis Dreyfus, and Michel Despratx, and President Emmanuel Macron should take steps to ensure that this assault on press freedom in France is curbed immediately.”
On May 21, Chemin, a reporter for French daily Le Monde, received a summons as part of an investigation into her reporting on President Emmanuel Macron’s former top security officer, Alexandre Benalla, according to a report by her employer. Dreyfus, Le Monde‘s publisher and the chairman of its executive board, also received a summons relating to the case, according to news reports.
On May 22, Despratx, a reporter at investigative news website Disclose, received a summons as part of a leak investigation over a Disclose report alleging that French-manufactured weapons were sold to Saudi Arabia and used in the war in Yemen, according to news reports.
On May 22, Le Monde published an editorial stating that the summonses focused on the paper’s investigation into individuals close to Benalla, including an air force officer. According to a copy of Chemin’s summons reviewed by The Washington Post, the journalist is accused of disclosing or attempting to disclose identifying information of a member of the special forces, and could face jail time if charged and convicted.
Le Monde reported that Dreyfus received his summons “in the same circumstances” as Chemin.
According to a statement published by Disclose on Twitter, Despratx will be questioned as a witness in a case about “compromising national defense secrets.” Three other reporters linked to the Disclose report on French arms sales to Saudi Arabia received summonses and were questioned about their sources earlier this month, as CPJ reported at the time.
On May 22, Valentine Oberti, a reporter for French news show “Quotidien,” announced that she had also been summoned by the General Directorate in relation to her reporting on French arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and was questioned about her sources on February 15, as seen in a video of the show uploaded to Twitter.
CPJ emailed questions to the French Interior Ministry, which oversees the General Directorate, but did not immediately receive a reply.