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Photographer taking pictures of murder re-enactment is physically attacked then arrested on charge of "violating judicial confidentiality"

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the detention of press photographer Jean-Claude Elfassi for several hours on 10 July 2007 and the seizure of some of his material. Police arrested Elfassi after he took photos of the judicial re-enactment of a murder in the Paris suburb of Pantin on 10 July.

"Every aspect of this case is shocking," the press freedom organisation said. "Elfassi was just doing his job at the scene of the re-enactment of a murder, which many people were able to attend. After being physically attacked by two people, he was taken into police custody while his assailants were released. He claims there were many irregularities and procedural errors. The behaviour of the police is particularly disturbing. We hope the police internal investigations department, which has been asked to look into the case, will do so with all the necessary care."

Reporters Without Borders added: "More and more journalists are being prosecuted on charges of 'violating professional secrecy' or 'violating the confidentiality of a judicial investigation', and this reduces them to the level of criminals. We think it is essential to remember that journalism is one of the cornerstones of democracy and the rule of law, not a threat to them."

After taking several photos of the murder re-enactment, Elfassi was assaulted by two witnesses who tried to take his photographic material. The police intervened and took him and his two assailants to the Pantin police station, where he filed a complaint accusing them of theft. The two men were nonetheless released while Elfassi was placed in custody on a charge of "violating the confidentiality of a judicial investigation".

The police also ordered Elfassi to surrender a cassette and two memory cards containing the photos he had taken of the re-enactment. He refused to comply on the grounds that this was a violation of press freedom. His material was then taken and placed under judicial seal.

Elfassi told Reporters Without Borders he was not informed that he had been formally taken into custody until he was allowed to leave the police station at 11:40 p.m. (local time). He was not able to make a phone call or be examined by a doctor, although he was injured. He also said he was not given anything to drink or eat until he was released.

After being released, he was able to contact friends who came to get him and took him to a hospital where he was examined. A medical report said he had an injury to the head, neck pains and abrasions to the right arm. The next day he filed a complaint with the police internal investigations department, accusing the Pantin police of "abuse of authority" and "arbitrary detention."

Elfassi told Reporters Without Borders he was shocked by the evident complicity between his two assailants and the four police officers involved (one in uniform and three in plain clothes). He said his two assailants offered to replace the material they had damaged during the attempted theft with other stolen material. They also said they would wait for him and would be "always behind him." All these comments were made in the presence of police officers, who did not react.

Later, while the police officer questioning them was briefly absent, they also requested money from Elfassi in exchange for the photos taken during the re-enactment. Elfassi also pointed out that the police officers seemed to know the two men, talking to them about football matches they had played together in the past and about future matches.

Reporters Without Borders tried without success to talk to the police officers who arrested Elfassi. The only response it got from an officer at the Pantin police station was: "I have orders and I cannot give you an answer."

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