Finally free. Journalist Ariane Lavrilleux was released from the Marseille police station on Wednesday evening after forty-eight hours in police custody following an investigation into her articles, an extremely rare coercive measure which outraged the profession. “I am free, thank you very much for your support,” the journalist wrote on a possible diversion by Egypt of a French intelligence operation.
His lawyer, Virginie Marquet, confirmed his release around 9 p.m. while a source close to the investigation indicated that his police custody was “lifted” while a former soldier, also detained since Tuesday, was going to be presented to him at a magistrate with a view to possible prosecution. “It’s okay, she’s very combative,” said Magali Serre, president of Disclose, a media outlet which published her article at the end of 2021.
Five articles on targeted arms sales
Disclose had claimed in an article published in November 2021 that the French intelligence mission “Sirli”, started 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 airstrikes on suspected smugglers’ vehicles on the Egyptian-Libyan border. Following this publication, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces filed a complaint for “violation of national defense secrecy”.
A preliminary investigation was opened in November 2021 before an investigating judge was appointed in the summer of 2022, according to Disclose. But no judicial source was able to confirm these elements on Wednesday evening. Disclose clarified on Wednesday, on the media since 2019”.
In addition to the one relating to the “Sirli” operation, Disclose cites articles relating to “the sale of 30 Rafale planes to Egypt”, “weapons delivered to Russia until 2020”, “the sale of 150,000 shells to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)” and “the illicit transfer of arms from the UAE to Libya”.
The upwind profession
The announcement of the police custody has sparked since Tuesday morning a growing flow of support for the journalist, such as that of Amnesty International, which deplored “an attack against journalists (…) who try to expose the opaque actions of French intelligence services. “There is a form of escalation in the means implemented (to obtain information on journalists’ sources), which itself is worrying,” also estimated Paul Coppin, of Reporters Without Borders.
During a gathering convened at the end of the afternoon at Place de la République in Paris, the president of Disclose estimated that the State was warning journalists by this measure: “If you investigate state secrets, you risk to end up like Ariane Lavrilleux, in police custody.” “We are facing intimidation like we have never seen in recent years,” Emmanuel Poupard also denounced, on behalf of the journalists’ inter-union association.
The controversy spills over into the political sphere. The head of the Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, present alongside deputies Julien Bayou (EELV) and Raquel Garrido (LFI), called for “constitutionalizing the right to protection of sources”. “This is what we will defend in the coming weeks.” Government spokesperson Olivier Véran refused on Wednesday to answer a question on this affair, during the report of the Council of Ministers. Contacted by AFP, the Ministry of Culture did not respond.