Europe 1 with AFP/Photo credit: Valerie Dubois / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP 10:51 am, September 21, 2023Journalist Ariane Lavrilleux was released Wednesday night after 48 hours in police custody in an investigation into her articles on a possible hijacking by Egypt of a French intelligence operation, a rare coercive measure that outraged the profession.
"I am free, thank you very much for your support," wrote on X (ex-Twitter) and in three languages the journalist Wednesday evening, a message accompanied by a photo with her fist raised in front of an Egyptian flag.
His lawyer Virginie Marquet confirmed to AFP his release around 21:00 while a source close to the investigation said that his custody was "lifted" while a former soldier, also detained since Tuesday, would be presented to a magistrate for possible prosecution.
"It's okay, she's very combative," Magali Serre, president of Disclose, a media outlet that published its article at the end of 2021, told AFP. Disclose had claimed in an article published in November 2021 that the French intelligence mission "Sirli", begun in February 2016 for the benefit of Egypt in the name of the fight against terrorism, had been hijacked by the Egyptian state, which used the information collected to carry out air strikes on vehicles of suspected smugglers on the Egyptian-Libyan border.
Following this publication, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces had filed a complaint for "violation of the secrecy of the National Defense". A preliminary investigation was opened in November 2021 before an investigating judge was appointed in the summer of 2022, according to Disclose.
No judicial source could confirm Wednesday evening these elements. Disclose said Wednesday, on X, that according to its information, "the investigators of the DGSI accuse (the) journalist of having signed five articles on French arms sales abroad, published in the media since 2019".
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In addition to the one on the "Sirli" operation, Disclose cites articles on "the sale of 30 Rafale aircraft to Egypt", "the weapons delivered to Russia until 2020", "the sale of 150,000 shells to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)" and "the transfer of illicit weapons from the UAE to Libya". The announcement of the detention has aroused since Tuesday morning a growing flow of support for the journalist, as that of Amnesty International, which deplored "an attack on journalists (...) who attempt to expose the opaque actions of the French intelligence services."
"There is a form of escalation in the means used (to obtain information on journalists' sources), which itself is worrying," said Paul Coppin of Reporters Without Borders.
At a rally convened at the end of the afternoon at Place de la République in Paris, the president of Disclose had estimated that the State warned journalists by this measure: "If you investigate state secrets, you risk ending up like Ariane Lavrilleux, in custody."
"We are facing intimidation like we have never seen in recent years," said Emmanuel Poupard, on behalf of the journalists' union. The boss of the Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, present alongside MPs Julien Bayou (EELV) and Raquel Garrido (LFI) had called for "constitutionalising the right to the protection of sources". "This is what we will defend in the coming weeks."
Rallies of dozens of people also took place in Marseille, where the journalist had been in custody since Tuesday, or in Lyon. Government spokesman Olivier Véran refused Wednesday to answer a question on this case, during the minutes of the Council of Ministers.
Contacted by AFP, the Ministry of Culture did not respond. Both news media and NGO, the investigative website Disclose was founded in 2018 by two investigative journalists. Its funding is based exclusively on donations, guaranteeing its editorial independence, explains Disclose on its website, where all its surveys are open access.