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Police carry out searches of "Le Point" and "L'Equipe" newspapers' offices

(RSF/IFEX) - On 13 January 2005, an examining judge led some 10 police officers in a search of the Paris offices of the weekly "Le Point", in a probe into the "violation of the confidentiality of an investigation" involving an alleged doping scandal within the Cofidis cycling team. A virtually simultaneous search was carried out by another examining judge at the offices of the sports daily "L'Equipe".

"We offer our support to the journalists and management of 'Le Point' and 'L'Equipe' and call on the legal authorities to respect the right to source protection, as guaranteed by Article 109 of the Criminal Code and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights," RSF said.

The search of "Le Point"'s offices was led by Judge Katherine Cornier, from the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Police who carried out the search with the judge recorded all of the newspaper's fax numbers and seized the computers of journalists Olivia Recasens and Jean-Michel Décujis, in a bid to identify their sources for the doping story. Police officers and the judge were expected to question journalist Christophe Labbé the same afternoon, while Décujis was scheduled to be interviewed on 14 January.

In early 2004, the Nanterre Prosecutor's Office launched legal action for "violation of the confidentiality of an investigation" following "Le Point"'s 22 January publication of excerpts of phone-tapped conversations ordered by Judge Richard Pallain in the doping scandal involving cycling competitors in the Confidis case.

On 14 December, the courts ordered "Le Point"'s management to quickly produce an organisational chart for the newspaper with details of all staff phone and fax numbers. "Le Point" Chief Executive Officer Franz-Olivier Giesbert only sent the judge the same details that are published in the newspaper.

On 9 April, "L'Equipe" carried extensive excerpts of official interviews with several Cofidis riders, some of whom were under investigation in the alleged doping scandal within the cycling team.

After Cofidis team management issued a writ against "L'Equipe", a Nanterre judge decided that the confidentiality of the investigation did not bind the daily's journalists.

In September, RSF, the French Federation of News Agencies and reporters from the written and broadcast press set up a working group with the aim of formulating clear proposals to the Justice Ministry to ensure permanent protection of sources.

On 13 January 2005, RSF also stressed that the courts should never take the view that journalists are police assistants. "Source protection is an inviolable principle, to which there can be no exceptions. We believe this legal gesture is solely aimed at intimidating the journalists' sources," the organisation said.

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