She is the author of the article that sparked the Benalla affair, revealing the blows struck by the former Elysée collaborator against a demonstrator on 1er May 2018. Ariane Chemin, journalist at World, is summoned for a free hearing at the General Directorate of Internal Security (DGSI), on May 29. An initiative “worrying” for freedom of the press, according to the daily, which revealed the information on Wednesday. The world does not envisage legal action at this stage. “We’ll see how it goes,” comments its director, Jérôme Fenoglio. This summons is all the more worrying as it comes shortly after that of other journalists who have investigated arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Why is Ariane Chemin summoned by the DGSI?
“Revelation or disclosure of any information which could lead, directly or indirectly, to the identification of a person as a member of a special forces unit”, details Jérôme Fenoglio, using the terms of article 413-14 of the penal code. The investigation was opened by the Paris prosecutor’s office following a complaint filed by a person named in one of the journalist’s articles on the Benalla affair. No doubt it is Chokri Wakrim, an air force soldier, whose the world wrote on February 8 that he “served as an accountant in Special Operations Command.” At the time, the world was returning to the path of the one whom Release suddenly brought to light in the Benalla affair, by revealing, on the one hand, his role in the execution of the Russian contract sealed between Benalla and the oligarch Iskander Makhmudov. And on the other hand, the proximity of Wakrim to the highest peak in the state, the latter being the companion of Marie-Elodie Poitout, then chief of security for the Prime Minister.
What about journalists who investigated arms sales used in Yemen?
Three of these journalists have already been summoned by the DGSI: Benoît Collombat, from the investigation unit of Radio France, and two co-founders of Disclose, an investigative mediator. In mid-April, the news site revealed a document classified at the “confidential-defense” level from the Military Intelligence Directorate (DRM) and published an investigation into the use of French weapons in the war in Yemen. A fourth journalist from the collective, Michel Despratx, learned on Wednesday that he was also expected at the DGSI headquarters in Levallois-Perret (Hauts-de-Seine), next Tuesday. In this case, it is a preliminary inquiry for “compromise of national defense secrets”, opened on December 13 after a complaint from the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the supervisory authority of the DRM. “The confidential documents revealed by Disclose and its partners are of major public interest. That of bringing to the attention of citizens and their representatives what the government wanted to conceal,” reacted the media. The leaked report indeed contradicted the assertions of the French authorities that these weapons were not used or only in a defensive position. It did not contain any information likely to threaten the safety of any soldiers or French agents on the ground.
Wednesday, Disclose denounced “a new attempt by the Paris prosecutor’s office to circumvent the 1881 law on the freedom of the press and the protection of sources”. According to the accounts of the three journalists already heard, the DGSI investigators were trying to identify their informants. The compromise of national defense secrecy is punishable by a sentence of up to seven years in prison and a fine of 100,000 euros. Thirty-seven French newsrooms had supported the journalists when they were summoned, and seventeen human rights NGOs had expressed concern about “threats to freedom of the press”.
What are the precedents?
You have to go back to 2017 to find a similar case, with the same motive – to have published a secret defense document – and with the same objective: to obtain the sources of journalists, and to dissuade them from publishing new confidential documents, more or less threatening. That year, it was first Edwy Plenel, publishing director of Mediapart and Clément Fayol, freelance journalist, who had been heard by the DGSI following an article published on March 20, 2016 on France’s geopolitical compromises in Chad. No prosecution had been initiated against Edwy Plenel. On the other hand, the journalist Clément Fayol had received a reminder to law, signed by the Paris prosecutor, François Molins. In this letter, Freed was able to consult, it is specified, in an explicitly threatening manner: “No criminal proceedings will be brought against you if, within a period of six years from this day, you do not commit any new offense of this nature. Failing this, this procedure could then be resumed and your referral to the required criminal court.
More recently, Valentine Oberti, journalist for the program Quotidien, was summoned two months ago with her JRI and her soundman by the DGSI because they were investigating arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates . In 2016, Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme, journalists at World, had also been summoned by the DGSI, on the basis of an article describing the preparation, three years earlier, of a possible bombardment of military bases of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, in response to the chemical attacks of the Syrian president. Contacted, Gérard Davet, who in the end received a simple reminder to law, recounts a somewhat surreal hearing: “They tried to find out who had given us this document, asking us in particular if it was François Hollande.”
Two years earlier, in March 2014, a journalist from the cross, Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner, who had been heard by the DCRI (the ancestor of the DGSI), after having published an article on the flaws in the prevention of radical Islam in France. “The goal was to impress me. One of the policemen said to me: ‘The next time you have access to information, you will remember us’”, said the journalist at the time.
In 2013, it was the turn of the journalist from Release Pierre Alonso and his colleague Andréa Fradin, then journalists for the website Owni, to be auditioned following an article on a call for tenders for a new judicial system. Again, the investigators had tried to find out their sources, while offering to “speak ‘off’ their colleagues”. Guillaume Dasquié, publishing director ofOwni, was also summoned at the time. It was not the first time for him: in 2007, he had already been heard by the French intelligence services, always for the same reason, “compromise of defense secrets”.