Ariane Lavrilleux helped uncover grim details of an apparent intelligence breach involving France and Egypt.
A journalist who was detained after revealing a connection between French state intelligence and air strikes in Egypt has been released from police custody amid a furore over her treatment – a rare coercive measure that has sparked outrage in France.
Ariane Lavrilleux was released Wednesday evening after 48 hours’ detention. The authorities say they are investigating her articles on a possible Egyptian hijacking of a French intelligence operation.
“I’m free, thank you very much for your support,” she wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday evening, accompanying her message with a photo of her fist raised in front of an Egyptian flag.
Lavrilleux’s work was published by the investigative website Disclose, which in November 2021 claimed that a French intelligence mission named “Sirli”, begun in February 2016 on behalf of Egypt in the name of the fight against terrorism, had been hijacked by the Egyptian state.
According to the story, Egyptian authorities used the information gathered to carry out air strikes on suspected smugglers’ vehicles on the Egyptian-Libyan border.
Following the publication of the claims, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces filed a complaint for “violation of national defence secrecy”. According to the site, preliminary investigation was opened in November 2021, before an examining magistrate was appointed in the summer of 2022.
Part news medium, part NGO, Disclose was founded in 2018 by two investigative journalists. Its funding relies exclusively on donations, guaranteeing its editorial independence, and its investigations are not paywalled.
The site said on Wednesday on X that according to its information, investigators from France’s General Directorate for Internal Security are alledging that Lavrilleux was responsible for “five articles on French arms sales abroad, published in the media since 2019”.
In addition to the one on the “Sirli” operation, Disclose cites articles on “the sale of 30 Rafale aircraft to Egypt”, “arms delivered to Russia until 2020”, “the sale of 150,000 shells to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates” and “the illicit transfer of arms from the UAE to Libya”.
At a meeting of the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, government spokesman Olivier Véran refused to answer a question on the case, but the incident has prompted an outpouring of support for Lavrilleux – and widespread condemnation of the police’s actions.
Amnesty International said it deplored “an attack on journalists (…) who try to expose the opaque actions of French intelligence services”.
Paul Coppin of Reporters Without Borders added: “There is a form of escalation in the means used (to obtain information on journalists’ sources), which is itself worrying.”
At a rally in Place de la République in Paris, the president of Disclose said the state’s arrest of Lavrilleux sent a clear message to journalists: “If you investigate state secrets, you risk ending up like Ariane Lavrilleux, in police custody”.
Emmanuel Poupard, speaking on behalf of the journalists’ union, denounced the fact that “we are faced with intimidation the likes of which we have never seen in recent years”.
Also present at the protest was the head of the Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, who called for “the right to protection of sources” to be embedded in the French constitution.
Gatherings of dozens of people also took place in Marseille, where the journalist had been in police custody since Tuesday, and in Lyon.