Justice. Benalla case: The State was condemned for an attempted search of Mediapart premises

On Wednesday, the Nanterre court condemned the State's attempt to search Mediapart premises in 2019.

Justice. Benalla case: The State was condemned for an attempted search of Mediapart premises

On Wednesday, the Nanterre court condemned the State's attempt to search Mediapart premises in 2019. This was in connection with the Benalla case. According to his judgement, AFP found that the search violated freedoms of expression and secrecy about sources.

The court ruled that the disputed search was not necessary in a democratic society nor proportionate to the goal pursued within the scope of the ECHR's case law on freedom of press. The judges ruled that this search "therefore constituted an interference in freedom of expression (...) more so than in normal circumstances because a risk of breaking the confidentiality of the sources cannot be conceived in extraordinary circumstances."

Mediapart assigned the State to pay one euro to the investigation site as "full damages compensation". In addition, 10,000 euros were added in accordance with article 700 of code of civil procedure (expenses for justice) and an order for provisional execution. Mediapart requested publication of the Nanterre court's judgment on its Ministry of Justice website.

The site published sound clips from a conversation between Alexandre Benalla, an ex-Elysee official and En Marche's former employee on January 31, 2019. Vincent Crase, dated July 26, just four days after they were indicted in the May 1, 2018, violence case. This was in violation of their judiciary review. In the days that followed, the Paris public prosecutor's office opened an investigation into "illegal possession or technical devices likely to permit the carrying out interception of communications or telecommunications" and "invasion on the privacy of private life".

Two prosecutors and three officers tried to search Mediapart's premises to retrieve the recordings. This was strongly condemned by several media, the opposition and many media. Nanterre court stated that these investigations "necessarily implied the access to the medium, and any metadata that are likely to permit, directly or indirectly, the identification of its source", reducing the risk of "inadvertently revealing other sources". The judges affirm that, given the nature of freedom and the attack on one pillar, the disproportionality retained means by itself the existence abnormal, special, and serious prejudice.

Edwy Plenel, president of the site, recalled at the time that Mediapart had promised to deliver a copy the recordings to the justice department before the search. This was accomplished on February 4, 2019.

Press is not a place one can go with impunity

"We are happy to welcome this historic decision which enshrines freedom to inform and reminds judicial authorities that the media is a place where they do not go with impunity," said Me Emmanuel Tordjman, Mediapart's lawyer. He said that media, like freedom of expression and speech, have protection. However, they must be regulated with caution and proportionality.

"By sanctioning state power abuse, (the judgement) it recalls that democracy has a vital need for independent justice and free press," he said on Edwy Plenel's Mediapart site.

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