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23 May, 2019 02:57

French domestic intel summons journalist who exposed Benalla affair

French domestic intel summons journalist who exposed Benalla affair

A French reporter who exposed cronyism in President Emmanuel Macron's administration has been summoned for questioning by domestic intelligence, the fifth journalist subjected to the chilling treatment within a month.

Le Monde journalist Ariane Chemin has been directed to appear before the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) next week, according to the paper's editorial director. Chemin was the first to write about Alexandre Benalla, a security aide and member of President Emmanuel Macron's inner circle who was caught on film beating a protester while impersonating a policeman. The story opened a window into extensive corruption within the Macron government, leading to several more stories and multiple officials resigning in disgrace, turning what has become known as the "Benalla affair" into a millstone around Macron's neck.

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Chemin is accused of "committing or attempting to commit the offense of revealing or disclosing, by any means, any information that could lead, directly or indirectly, to the identification of a person as a member of special forces" and could face jail time, according to the Washington Post, which was given a copy of the police summons. The law, adopted in April 2016 during the "state of emergency" declared following a series of terrorist attacks in 2015, has never before been used against a journalist.

A February story about a contract for "protection services" Benalla allegedly negotiated between former French air force officer Chokri Wakrim and a Russian tycoon suspected of ties to organized crime triggered the backlash against Chemin, according to Le Monde editorial director Luc Bronner. A corruption probe has been opened against Wakrim, while his wife was forced to resign as head of security for the Prime Minister.
"It's a very bad climate for the press," Chemin told the Washington Post, adding that in her 24 years in journalism, "this is the first time the press is being treated in such a way."

The summons comes less than a month after three journalists from investigative news site Disclose were called into DGSI over a story exposing how France knowingly sold weapons, tanks, and ships to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for the purpose of waging war in Yemen, in violation of a 2014 arms treaty. The story was based on a classified Directorate of Military Intelligence briefing and the journalists were threatened with up to five years in jail under a 2009 law prohibiting "attacks on national defense secrets" for merely handling the classified document without authorization. On Wednesday, Disclose revealed a fourth journalist had been summoned by DGSI.

Macron's government has cracked down hard on journalists exposing corruption within its ranks, raiding the offices of Mediapart, another outlet that reported on the Benalla affair, in February without a warrant. In 2018, a law was passed allowing the government to shut down any news agency deemed to be under "foreign influence" four months before an election.

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