Journalists face prison for exposing French complicity in Yemen conflict

Journalists face prison for exposing French complicity in Yemen conflict
4 min read
19 May, 2019
According to reports, journalists that revealed France's complicity in the war in Yemen are being questioned by French intelligence agency and could face jail time.
France has been arming the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen [Getty]

Three French journalists who exposed their country’s involvement in the deadly Yemen conflict could face potential jail time in what has been described as an unprecedented case, reports confirmed this week.

Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal, co-founders of Disclose, a Paris-based investigative news organisation that published a report detailing France's complicity in the Yemen conflict, as well as Benoît Collombat, a reporter from Radio France, were summoned for questioning by the General Directorate for Internal Security [DGSI], according to a report by The Intercept.

The agency, much like the FBI in the United States, handles terrorism and espionage cases as well as domestic threats.

The journalists were questioned for an hour after French authorities claimed they had compromised “the secrecy of national defence” following the publication of a report sourcing a “classified document” that demonstrated France’s complicity in the war in Yemen.

The classified French intelligence note - provided to the government in October 2018, according to Disclose - said that 48 CAESAR artillery guns manufactured by the Nexter group were being used along the Saudi-Yemen border.

Leclerc tanks, sold in the 1990s to the UAE, have also been used, as have Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets, while French missile-guiding technology called DAMOCLES might have been deployed, according to the assessment.

Cougar transport helicopters and the A330 MRTT refuelling plane have also seen action, and two French ships are serving in the blockade of Yemeni ports which has led to food and medical shortages, the DRM military intelligence agency concluded.

Paris has always insisted that the arms are only used in defensive circumstances to deter attacks by the Houthis amid ongoing pressure for years by rights groups over arms sales.

The revelations risk caused embarrassment for French Armed Forces Minister Francoise Parly who in January said she was unaware of “any French arms being used in the conflict.

Last week, Parly said Disclose had violated “all the rules and laws of our country,” warning those who disclose classified documents expose themselves to penalties.”

A 2009 French law prohibits “attacks on national defence secrets” and stipulates all those who handle a classified document without authorisation are committing a crime.  

“They want to make an example of us because it’s the first time in France that there have been leaks like this,” Disclose co-founder Livolsi told The Intercept.

“They want to scare journalists and their sources away from revealing state secrets,” he added.

If found guilty, the reporters could face five years in prison and a €75,000 (around $83,900) penalty.

War crimes

France, the third-biggest arms exporter in the world, counts Saudi Arabia and the UAE as loyal clients in the Middle East and has resisted pressure to stop the arms trade - unlike Germany, which has suspended sales.

Rights groups have regularly accused Paris of being complicit in alleged war crimes committed in Yemen where thousands have died and millions have been forced to the brink of starvation.

"The government can no longer deny the risk of complicity in war crimes," the head of Human Rights Watch in France, Benedicte Jeannerod, wrote on Twitter in response to the revelations in April.

Amnesty International slammed the revelations as a violation of the Arms Trade Treaty.

"Despite overwhelming evidence, Western arms supplied to the Saudi Arabia and UAE-led coalition are being used to commit or facilitate possible war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, states such as France have shamelessly flouted their international obligations by continuing to supply arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in violation of the Arms Trade Treaty," the rights group said.

"The information made public today should spur the French government to immediately suspend all arms transfers that could be used by any of the warring parties in Yemen – once and for all," it added at the time of the publication.

Disclose is a new investigative website working in partnership with established media companies including public broadcaster France Info, online brand Mediapart and Franco-German television channel Arte.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia, which own billions of dollars' worth of weapons bought from the United States, France and UK, intervened in 2015 to support the Yemeni government against the Houthis after the rebels overran the capital and other major cities.

Experts have concluded that all the warring parties have violated international humanitarian law and the UN has described the situation in the war-torn country the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The revelations came as the International Crisis Group, which researches ways to end conflicts, suggested the US should help its Middle East ally to exit the war in Yemen, where little progress has been made for four years.

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