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President Sarkozy files suit against website for "falsification and use and procurement of false documents"

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns President Nicolas Sarkozy's use of the "toughest way" to sue the website of the "Nouvel Observateur" newspaper. "The president is suing the newspaper under criminal law when he could well have brought a civil suit for violation of privacy," the press freedom organisation said.

The suit was filed on 7 February 2008 on Sarkozy's behalf by lawyer Thierry Herzog over a report on the newspaper's website ( http://www.nouvelobs.com ) entitled "The obsession with Cecilia." It claimed that, eight days before marrying former model Carla Bruni, Sarkozy sent his former wife an SMS message saying "If you come back, I'll call it all off."

"The charge of 'falsification and use and procurement of false documents' brought by the president's lawyer carries a prison sentence," Reporters Without Borders said. "Even if we trust the courts to be fair, this choice of procedure alarms us. Furthermore, a criminal prosecution means the journalist targeted could be required to reveal his sources. This would not be the case in a civil action.

"No French president had sued the news media for the past 30 years at least," the press freedom organisation added. "This is another reason why the case does not bode well for relations between this government and the press. If the lawsuit strikes us as inappropriate, so does secretary of state for human rights Rama Yade's description of journalists as 'vultures' in an interview on RTL. We hope she did not mean this."

The charges brought on 7 February by Sarkozy's lawyer under article 441 of the criminal code carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. The criminal suit by Sarkozy is unprecedented. The suit Sarkozy brought against the low-cost airline Ryanair for using a photo of himself and Bruni in an ad without his consent was a civil action.

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