ON THE MORNING OF FEBRUARY 4, staff members at Mediapart, the French independent investigative website, were just finishing an editorial meeting when the bell to their office rang. During the meeting, they had raised concerns about the recent shift taken by the French government to clamp down on the press’s right to inform and citizens’ right to protest.
When a reporter went to the door just after 11, he found two public prosecutors from the French Ministère Public—a branch of the judiciary similar to the Attorney General’s office and directly linked to the executive chamber—and three policemen. The officials demanded to search the newsroom as part of an investigation they had launched after a string of recent Mediapart stories. Mediapart refused, because the prosecutors didn’t have a warrant.
Edwy Plenel, the founder and publisher of Mediapart, calls the attempted raid “an attack on the free press,” and an unprecedented attempt by Emmanuel Macron to reveal Mediapart’s sources and seize documents and recordings. In a press conference with the Mediapart journalists, Christophe Deloire, Reporters Without Borders’ Secretary General, called the move “a freedom-destroying drift against the secrecy of sources.”
The inquiry stemmed from stories Mediapart published last week about two former Macron senior security agents, Alexandre Benalla and Vincent Crase, who were indicted for beating up a young protester during the 2018 May Day demonstrations. The story relied on recordings and documents, given to Mediapart by anonymous sources, which revealed that Benalla and Crase conspired to hide evidence against them; that Benalla organized a security contract with a Putin- and mob-linked Russian oligarch; and that Benalla had committed perjury before the French Senate. Mediapart’s stories about Benalla, the last of which ran this past Friday, have thrust Macron into what could be a major scandal.