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France: Stop harassing investigative journalists

    Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - 14:48

    Geoffrey Livolsi via Twitter

    DOWNLOAD PDF OF UA 70/19 HERE

    On 14 and 15 May, the Intelligence Services summoned journalists Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal, working for Disclose, and Benoît Collombat, with Radio France, for a hearing after the Paris Prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation against them for revealing a national defence secret. [UPDATE of June 13: Four more journalists have also been named.]

     In April, the trio had published “the Yemen papers”, a series of classified documents regarding the sale of French weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and their use against civilians in the civil war in Yemen. The sales of these weapons violate the obligations of France under international law, including the Arms Trade Treaty. The actions of these journalists are protected by the right to freedom of expression. The investigation against them must stop. 

     The right to freedom of expression protects the right to seek, impart and receive information and ideas of all kinds, including information about serious human rights violations. Journalists play a crucial role in informing society and must be able to operate without being threatened and harassed. Amnesty International is concerned that this investigation is being used to harass journalists and force them to reveal their sources. Information about human rights violations is in the public interest and journalists must not be prosecuted for communicating such information.

    Please send a letter or email to the Prosecutor.

    • Express concern about the preliminary investigation that his office is currently undertaking against Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal, who work for the investigative online media Disclose, as well as Benoît Collombat, who works for Radio France.
    • Urge him to immediately close the investigation against Geoffrey Livolsi, Mathias Destal and Benoît Collombat in order to respect their right to freedom of expression.
    • Seek assurances that they can continue their work without fear of reprisals.

    Write to

    Rémy Heitz
    Procureur de la République de Paris
    Tribunal de Paris
    4ème division – Section C1 Terrorisme et atteinte à la sûreté de l’Etat
    Parvis du Tribunal de Paris
    75859 Paris Cedex 17
    France
    Email: sec.c1.tgi-paris@justice.fr
    Salutation:    Dear Prosecutor

    Please copy

    Her Excellency Kareen Géraldine M.L. Rispal 
    Ambassador for France 
    42 Sussex Drive 
    Ottawa, Ontario K1M 2C9 
    Phone:     613 789 1795 
    Fax:         613 562 3735 
    Email:         politique@ambafrance-ca.org

    Additional information

    On 15 April 2019, the investigative media Disclose published “the Yemen papers”, a series of classified documents regarding the sale of French weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and their use against civilians in the civil war in Yemen. You can find this information here: https://made-in-france.disclose.ngo/en 

    On 14 and 15 May 2019, journalists Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal (Disclose) and Benoît Collombat (Radio France) were summoned for a hearing by the Intelligence Services (Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure, DGSI) after the Paris Prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation against them for revealing a national defence secret.

    Governments should never bring criminal proceedings or otherwise penalize individuals who, while under an obligation of confidentiality or secrecy, reveal information about human rights abuses for conscientious reasons and in a responsible manner. Moreover, other people, including journalists, who communicate information about human rights violations should never be subjected to such measures. The same applies as a general rule to revealing or communicating information about other matters of public interest. 

    The right to freedom of expression includes the journalistic privilege not to disclose sources of information. As part of the underlying right, it may be subject to certain permissible restrictions. The right to freedom of expression can be restricted, among other aims, to protect national security or public order provided that the restrictions are necessary and proportionate to the aim they seek to achieve. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, on its General Comment 34, said that “States parties should recognize and respect that element of the right of freedom of expression that embraces the limited journalistic privilege not to disclose information sources” (para. 45).

    In view of the human rights violations exposed by the French journalists, the preliminary investigation against them constitutes a disproportionate restriction of the right to freedom of expression and should be immediately stopped. 

    Under the 1881 French Law on the freedom of the press, journalist information sources are protected unless in instances where an overarching public interest justifies measures aimed to disclose sources and provided that those measures are necessary and proportionate (Article 2). In this case, the interest of the French state to conceal crucial information about the potential contribution of the French government to violating international humanitarian law in Yemen does not constitute an “overarching public interest”. On the contrary, providing information to the general public about the serious risk of use of French weapons to target civilians in Yemen is in the public interest as it constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law. Moreover, the published documents contradict the authorities’ narrative that French weapons are not directly used in the conflict and are only used for defensive purpose and point to the failure of the French government to comply with their obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty. 

    France ratified the Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force on 24 December 2014. Article 6 of the Treaty establishes that states should not authorize the sale of arms if they know that they could be used to perpetrate genocide, crimes against humanity, serious violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, attacks targeting civilians or other war crimes. 

    Under French Criminal Law, individuals who reveal classified information regarding national defence can face up to 7 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 euros (Articles 413-10 and 413-11 of the Criminal Code). 

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    If you wish to receive updates on this case, email urgentaction@amnesty.ca. In the subject line, write “Keep me updated on UA 70/19 France”.
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