Death Threats, Bullets for Journalists as French Race Heats UpBy
Financial prosecutor and investigative judges also targeted
Reporters Without Borders denounces politicians’ toxic remarks
Several French journalists and investigative judges received letters with death threats and bullets just weeks from the first round of voting in a presidential election campaign marred by the legal woes of Republican candidate Francois Fillon.
Journalists at weekly Le Canard Enchaine, whose report that Fillon had employed his wife for years as a parliamentary aide triggered a criminal investigation, online newspaper Mediapart and Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche received the death threats in the the last six days. The financial prosecutor’s office and the three investigative judges in charge of the Fillon probe were also targeted, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the information is not public.
“This intimidation is unacceptable in a democracy and takes place in an atmosphere already tainted by toxic and dangerous remarks against journalists from politicians,” Christophe Deloire, the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement last week when the first threats were received. Paris prosecutors are investigating the matter.
The front-runner for months, Fillon started sliding in poll ratings right after the Canard reported on Jan. 25 that his wife had collected about 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in public money without doing much to earn it. The 63-year-old former prime minister was then charged with the misuse of public funds as the investigation deepened. Fillon, who has maintained his innocence, has accused investigators of being part of a plot to prevent him from running.
Reporters Without Borders and the SNJ-CGT, a union of journalists, have both pointed to Fillon’s comments that he would “go after all those that started this case in due course” and that “those who started the case won’t sleep well going forward.” The Republican candidate has also repeatedly said that he considers it defamatory to say his wife’s job was bogus.
The threats are aimed at “muzzling journalists to prevent them from doing their job and see through their investigations in the context of the Fillon case,” according to the SNJ-CGT. Reporters Without Borders said the letters each contained a 22 Long Rifle caliber bullet and were sent from Marseilles and signed by a group going by the name “Epuration 2J.”
Fillon isn’t the only candidate in the French presidential race to be targeted by an investigation. The National Front’s Marine Le Pen is suspected of misusing her allowance from the European Parliament but the accusation hasn’t done any damage to her standing in the polls. She is virtually tied in the lead with independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, which could pave the way for a confrontation between the two in the May 7 runoff.