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Humiliating treatment of 'Libération' journalist in libel case evokes outcry in France

Libération journalist Vittorio de Filippis.

The treatment meted out by the French police to Vittorio de Filippis, former managing editor of leftwing daily Libération, has prompted widespread condemnation and furore.

Filippis was manhandled, handcuffed, humiliated in front of his sons, twice forced to strip and submit to body cavity searches and interrogated without lawyers by an investigating magistrate— all over a two-year-old libel case, the Washington Post said.

The “coercive methods” used against the journalist in connection with a libel suit against the newspaper that fell under his period of former responsibility, were yet another sign of “deterioration in press freedom in France," Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières said.

The financial journalist was woken at his home on November 28 by police officers who told him that they had a warrant to take him before the Tribunal de grande instance (TGI) high court in Paris. He was arrested in front of his children whom he was looking after that day, RSF said. He was then taken to the police station at Raincy to be told he had been arrested in connection with one of many libel cases against Libération brought by the founder of the company Free, Xavier Niel, relating to articles by Renaud Lecadre both in the paper and on its web version.

Since he was managing editor when the articles appeared, Vittorio de Filippis is seen as the major author under Article 42 of the 1881 press law. He was then taken to the TGI where he was twice subjected to body searches before being taken before a judge, Muriel Josié, vice-president of the TGI. In the absence of lawyers for Libération, the journalist refused to reply to questions from the judge, who told him he was under investigation, and who then ordered his release at the end of the morning.

“We are outraged by the unacceptable methods used against Vittorio de Filippis and their humiliating nature. Such a thing has never before been heard of in France. To treat a journalist like a criminal and to resort to practices such as body searches is not only shocking but unworthy of French justice," RSF said. “We demand that he receive an apology for the methods used in a case of libel, in which the punishment involvement does not include a prison sentence”.

“The state of press freedom in France has been deteriorating in the past few years, as demonstrated by its 35th place [out of 173 countries] in our latest world press freedom index. France has the dubious distinction of holding the European record for the number of summonses, investigations and custody orders against journalists," it continued.

“We sounded the alarm, along with [citizen journalism organisation] Mediapart on November 24 in organising a press convention which is currently going on. What has just happened feeds our anxiety. Journalists are too often treated as a nuisance, even as criminals and the essential role played by the press is ignored," RSF concluded.

Date posted: December 1, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 402