April 7, 2017 – Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that letters containing threatening messages and rifle bullets were received yesterday by Mediapart and Canard Enchaîné, two French media outlets that published damaging revelations about presidential candidate François Fillon.

Signed by a group calling itself “Epuration 2J” (Purge 2J), the identical message in each letter said: “Vigilance and protection don’t last for ever… That day/We will be there/for you/or/for someone close to you.” The letters were mailed from Marseille.

On the message to Mediapart, there was also a coffin with the letters EP, in apparent allusion to Mediapart publisher Edwy Plenel, together with the words “Judges and journalists in the same bag.”

According to Mediapart, similar letters were sent to Judge Eliane Houlette, who heads the special prosecutor’s office for financial offences, and to the three judges in charge of the investigation into alleged embezzlement of public funds by Fillon that was opened as a result of the reporting by Mediapart and Canard Enchaîné.

The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into these letters, which it is treating as “death threats.”

“The threats against Mediapart and Canard Enchaîné’s journalists are grave and must be taken seriously,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “Such acts of intimidation are unacceptable in a democracy and have taken place in an atmosphere already contaminated by poisonous and dangerous statements by politicians against journalists.”

Ever since the revelations by Mediapart and Canard Enchaîné about Fillon, who is the candidate of the centre-right The Republicans, a number of politicians have made vitriolic verbal attacks against journalists.

Fillon himself has described the media revelations and the judicial investigation as a “political assassination,” and as a “plot” hatched in “back-rooms.” Speaking on France Inter yesterday, he even said: “Those behind this case will not sleep well in the future.”

In addition to condemning such verbal attacks and urging France’s politicians to show restraint, RSF has just asked all the presidential candidates to give firm undertakings that media freedom and independence will be guaranteed in France, which is currently ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.