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Auto magazine reporter detained for 48 hours and charged in connection with industrial spying complaint

(RSF/IFEX) - After being held for 48 hours, Bruno Thomas, a reporter with the Paris-based car magazine "Auto Plus", was charged on 17 July 2008 in connection with an industrial spying complaint brought by the French car-maker Renault in 2007 when the magazine published photos of future Renault models.

"Holding Thomas for 48 hours was outrageous, and charging him on five counts is just a ploy by the police and judicial authorities to get him to reveal his sources," Reporters Without Borders said. "Once again, a basic principle of journalism is being flouted."

"The principle of the confidentiality of journalists' sources, one of press freedom's cornerstones, is again being violated in France by policemen and judges serving the interests of an industrial group that denies the public's right to be informed," Reporters Without Borders said.

Thomas was arrested at his home at around 6:30 am (local time), and some 10 members of the Versailles criminal investigation department searched the premises of "Auto Plus" in the 15th district of Paris from 9 am to 5:30 pm. He was taken into custody on 15 July. Reporters Without Borders repeatedly contacted the Versailles criminal investigation department on 15 and 16 July but the police refused to say where he was being held.

Thomas was taken this morning to the Versailles prosecutor's office where he was charged with "complicity in breach of trust," "unauthorised publication or reproduction in writing, drawing or any other form in violation of the laws and regulations relating to the property of the author, and complicity therein," "unauthorised publication of an intellectual product in violation of authorship rights, and complicity therein," "acquiescing in inducements to corrupt and complicity therein" and "revealing a manufacturing secret, and complicity therein."

"Auto Plus" editor Laurent Chiapello said: "These charges seem rather unreal for journalists. It is not going to be easy to establish what journalism has become today in France."

Thomas was placed under judicial control when he was released on 17 July at 11 a.m. (local time)., but Chiapello said the restrictions imposed on him were not too onerous. "He has the right to do everything except talk to the people at Renault or to their suppliers," Chiapello said.

Renault's director of legal affairs issued a statement on 16 July pointing out that the complaint filed by the company was against unidentified persons and "not against any named person or against the magazine." Without commenting on Thomas' arrest, the statement added: "We leave it to the judicial authorities to decide how they conduct the investigation."

Chiapello told Reporters Without Borders: "The police searched Thomas' office and the office of one of his colleagues. They confiscated photos, email correspondence and the hard disks from the computers of both journalists."

"This raid is an insult to the parliamentarians who recently approved a draft law on the protection of the confidentiality of journalists' sources that had been presented by justice minister Rachida Dati," Reporters Without Borders added.

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