Rights groups condemn arrest of French journalist over Egypt spy report

SEP 20, 2023 LISTEN

Rights groups have condemned the arrest of French journalist Ariane Lavrilleux, who is being questioned in connection with reports that said French intelligence had been misused by Egypt to target smugglers on the Libyan border and kill civilians.

In November 2021 the online media outlet Disclose published the series of articles, which were based on hundreds of secret documents. Their publication prompted France's armed forces minister to call for an investigation.

It denounced an "unacceptable attack on the secrecy of sources" – a view backed by Reporters without Borders and the Society of Journalists.

“We fear that the DGSI's actions will undermine the secrecy of the sources," RSF said. The group has organised a march in support of Lavrilleux in central Paris on Wednesday evening.

Lavrilleux's lawyer, Virginie Marquet, said her client was being questioned by a judge and police officers from the French intelligence service DGSI as part of an investigation into compromising national security.

“It's a rather uncommon procedure,” Marquet told Reuters. “It goes up a notch when it comes to coercive measures against journalists.

"This search risks seriously undermining the confidentiality of journalists's sources."

'Arbitrary killings'

Disclose said its report showed how information from a French counter-intelligence operation in Egypt, codenamed "Sirli", was used by the Egyptian state for "a campaign of arbitrary killings" against smugglers operating along the Libyan border.

The articles said French forces were complicit in at least 19 bombings against smugglers between 2016 and 2018 in the region.

The documents showed there were warnings from officials within the French government, but the operation was not called into question, Disclose said.

France's Ministry of the Armed Forces filed a complaint for "violation of national defence secrecy" following the report's publication.

A case was opened in July 2022 by the Paris prosecutor's office that was then placed in the hands of the DGSI.