Berlin, September 20, 2023—France’s domestic intelligence agency should immediately release freelance journalist Ariane Lavrilleux from custody, drop all criminal investigations against her, and refrain from questioning her about her sources, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, September 19, police officers with the General Directorate for Internal Security, accompanied by an investigating judge, arrived at Lavrilleux’s home in the southern city of Marseille at about 6 a.m., searched the property for 10 hours, and arrested her, according to media reports, statements by the investigative website Disclose, which published Lavrilleux’s reporting, and Virginie Marquet, a lawyer for the journalist and the media outlet, who spoke with CPJ via phone.
The police searched Lavrilleux’s computer and mobile devices and asked questions about her 2021 investigation for Disclose, based on leaked classified documents, which alleged that Egyptian authorities used French intelligence to arbitrarily bomb and kill smugglers on the Egyptian-Libyan border between 2016 and 2018, those sources said.
“France’s General Directorate for Internal Security must immediately release investigative journalist Ariane Lavrilleux, drop all criminal investigations against her, and refrain from questioning her over her sources,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Journalists must be able to freely report on national defense and security issues. Questioning reporters about their confidential sources places them under unwarranted pressure and could have a chilling effect on defense reporting.”
France’s intelligence agency started investigating Lavrilleux in July 2022 following a complaint by the Ministry of the Armed Forces that the leaks could lead to the identification of a protected agent, those sources said. The penalty for disclosure of a national defense secret is up to five years in jail, according to the General Directorate for Internal Security.
Lavrilleux’s lawyer Marquet told CPJ that the journalist and Disclose only published information that was in the public interest and authorities risked undermining the confidentiality of journalistic sources. Disclose described Lavrilleux’s arrest as “unacceptable intimidation”.
CPJ’s emails to the General Directorate for Internal Security requesting comment did not receive any replies.
Editor’s note: Lavrilleux was released on September 20 after almost two days in detention.