France19 March 2008
Sarkozy withdraws lawsuit against Nouvel Observateur
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, announced in a statement published in Le Monde today that he has withdrawn the lawsuit he brought against the Nouvel Observateur newspaper on 7 February. The lawsuit was withdrawn after Bruni received a letter of apology from Nouvel Observateur journalist Airy Routier.
“We welcome the announcement that President Sarkozy is withdrawing his lawsuit against Nouvel Observateur,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We hope the lawsuit will turn out to be an isolated event that does not recur. Suing the news media is something French presidents have not done for many years.”
08.02 - Concern about criminal suit brought by Sarkozy against Nouvel Observateur
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 yesterday on Sarkozy’s behalf by lawyer Thierry Herzog over a report on the newspaper’s website (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 so 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 yesterday 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. A criminal suit by a French president 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.