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France22 January 2004

Journalist facing legal action for "public abuse of a member of government".

Reporters Without Borders criticised as "completely absurd and anachronistic" a legal investigation opened against Judith Silberfeld, deputy editor of the monthly gay magazine Têtu, for "public abuse of a member of government".

It was all the more ridiculous "at a time when France has just done away with the offence of insulting a foreign head of state, one of the most archaic clauses of the press law," said the international press freedom organisation.

The daily Libération, in an article published on 12 December 2002, quoted deputy minister for the family, Christian Jacob, known for his opposition to the Civil Solidarity Pact Law (Pacs - a domestic partnership law that includes homosexuals) and to child adoption by homosexuals. In the article he was quoted as saying, "The new family does not mean to be born as the result of an orgy, as I have heard on television."

On 19 December Judith Silberfeld received an email, apparently from the minister’s public relations adviser, Antoine Rault. It said that this quote had been taken out of context and that the minister spent "a lot of time studying the media and television, the running of which he understood very little about".

The journalist from Têtu, "monthly for homosexuals of both sexes" published the contents of the email, which she believed to be genuine, on the magazine’s Internet site. A few hours later Rault, contacted by Silberfeld, said that the email had not come from his service. The journalist said that the minister’s adviser had "seen the funny side of it" and that she immediately took the item of the Internet site and published a correction in which she accepted that she had been the victim of a "clever hoax".

More than a year later, on 8 January 2004, Judith Silberfeld was summoned before a Paris court. She was told by the examining magistrate that she was being investigated for "public abuse", on the basis that she had used "expressions suggesting that the deputy minister for the family did not have the intelligence that should be expected for someone in his position". The minister himself said that at the end of 2002 he had lodged a "complaint for defamation against person or persons unknown".

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