France has been accused of an ‘unacceptable’ attack on press freedom after the arrest of an investigative journalist who reported on leaked documents that claimed French intelligence was used to target civilians in Egypt .
Police arrived at Ariane Lavrilleux’s home at dawn on Tuesday and took her into custody after searching her property. AFP reported that she was being questioned by agents of the DGSI, France’s domestic intelligence service.
Lavrilleux wrote a series of articles published on the investigative site Disclose in November 2021 and drawing on hundreds of leaked classified documents. These allegedly showed how information from a French counter-espionage operation in Egypt was used by Cairo for “a campaign of arbitrary assassinations” against smugglers operating along the Libyan border.
Disclose described the arrest as “an unacceptable attack on the secrecy of (press) sources.” The Society of Journalists of France Télévisions and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also attacked the targeting of the journalist.
“We fear that the DGSI’s action will undermine the secrecy of sources,” declares RSF.
Virginie Marquet, the lawyer for Lavrilleux and Disclose, said the latter had only published information of “public interest” and condemned the arrest.
“I am dismayed and worried by the multiplication of attacks on freedom of information and the coercive measures taken against the Disclose journalist. This search risks seriously undermining the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.”
The Disclose articles said the leaked documents showed French intelligence information was used in at least 19 bombings against smugglers in the region between 2016 and 2018. The documents also showed French government officials had warned that the Egyptian state could use information from the counterespionage operation codenamed Sirli, but the operation was allowed to continue.
“The objective of this latest episode of unacceptable intimidation of Disclose journalists is clear: to identify our sources who revealed the Sirli military operation in Egypt. In November 2021, Disclose revealed an alleged campaign of arbitrary executions orchestrated by the Egyptian dictatorship of President al-Sisi, with the complicity of the French state, relying on several hundred “documents marked “defense – confidential”, Disclose wrote in a statement.
The French Ministry of the Armed Forces filed a complaint for “violation of national defense secrecy” after the article was published. In July 2022, the Paris public prosecutor’s office opened formal information sent to the DGSI, which considers that the information published could have identified “a protected agent”.