Three French journalists are threatened with potential jail time for using secret documents without authorization to reveal France’s involvement in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.
In 5 reports published in April, investigative journalists from Disclose and Radio France revealed the number of French arms sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
According to them:
“We believe that their publication is justified by the necessity of opening a balanced debate about the weapons contracts France has with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. That is all the more necessary given that these documents unveil a will on the part of the executive to conceal the facts.”
The documents were authored by France’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (DSGI) and showed that French officials lied about the role of French weapons in the Yemen intervention.
After the leaks were published, Disclose’s co-founders Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal and Radio France journalist Benoît Collombat were asked to attend a hearing at the DSGI headquarters in Paris.
The journalists refused to reveal their source. They used their hearing to protect press freedom and how it was in the public interest to publish the details from the leaked DSGI documents.
Press Freedom has been protected for more than 130 years under the Press Law of 1881, which gives journalists the right to keep sources confidential. The law doesn’t cover national security and the three journalists could be sentenced to prison time, as per a 2009 French law that considers as an offence the handling of a classified document without clearance or proper authorization. If convicted, the journalists could face five years in prison and a $83,000 fine.
The question arises; would the French authorities allow the journalists to publish documents that actually reveal the truth behind a lie? Unlikely.
Paul Coppin, the head of Reporters Without Border’s (RSF) legal unit criticized the DSGI for attempting to prosecute the journalists.
RSF released a statement condemning the action:
“We are concerned that the sole aim of this hearing is to use the threat of prosecution to put pressure on these journalists to reveal their source,” said Paul Coppin. “As it is legally unable to force them to disclose the identity of their source, the prosecutor’s office is using the possibility of a charge of compromising national defence secrecy, a charge punishable by five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros. The mere fact of threatening such a prosecution for publishing information in the public interest would in itself constitute a serious violation of the public’s right to be informed.”
The documents list itineraries of secret weapon deliveries to Saudi Arabia.
“Contrary to Germany, another major weapons exporter to Saudi Arabia and which has recently put in place an embargo on further arms supplies to the kingdom, France continues with its arms supplies to the country, and it does so in decisions taken behind closed doors,” the investigative report read.
In an interview on January 20th, 2019, in an interview on French National Radio, with France’s Defense Minister Florence Parly, the interviewer – Ali Baddou asked:
“Should there be a halt to weapons sales to Saudi Arabia?”
The question received no response.
Ali Baddou continued: “Can you tell us, Florence Parly, if French weapons have been used against civilians in Yemen?”
“I have no knowledge as to whether [French] weapons are being used directly in this conflict,” the minister said.
According to the leaked documents, France has provided the Saudi-led coalition with:
“Leclerc battle tanks, long-rod penetrator ammunition, Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets, COBRA counter-battery radar systems, Aravis armoured troop-carrying vehicles, Cougar and Dauphin helicopters, and CAESAR truck-mounted howitzers.”
Despite Parly’s claims, “the report precisely details each model, and indicates whether the equipment was sold to Saudi Arabia or its coalition partner, the UAE. Above all, it reveals that a number of French-made weapons are being used in combat operations in Yemen, including in civilian zones.”
Finally, the report concludes that the linked documents admit that France doesn’t have conclusive tracking of what it’s weapons are used for, but it nevertheless provides them to the Saudi-led coalition.
The report by the DRM recognised that without information sources “in the zone” in Yemen it cannot be able “to measure in precise terms” the military arsenal engaged by the coalition. As to the quantity of French-made equipment that is deployed, the military intelligence agency simply admits that it has “no information” on their precise use in the conflict in Yemen, nor regarding their presence at the border. That is a very embarrassing confession for the French government, but which was – until now – protected by the information classified as “secret défense”.