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France reacts to death of BFMTV journalist in Ukraine

Tributes to Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff have been paid as the French anti-terrorism office launches a war crimes inquiry. Russia disputes the facts

BFMTV journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff has been killed while reporting in Ukraine Pic: Gergely Szabo Hoang Viet / Shutterstock

Please note that this article contains images that you may find distressing. 

 

Political figures from all sides in France have paid homage to BFMTV journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, 32, who was killed yesterday (May 30) in Ukraine.

Mr Leclerc-Imhoff was mortally wounded by shrapnel while on a convoy that was evacuating civilians in the region of Luhansk, near the town of Severodonetsk.

He is the eighth journalist, and the second of French nationality, to be killed since the start of the conflict on February 24, Reporters Without Borders has said.

His colleague, BFMTV journalist Maxime Brandstaetter was travelling behind in the same vehicle and was only “lightly injured” on his leg. The pair’s Ukrainian translator, Oksana Leuta, was unharmed.

President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter: “As a journalist, Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff was in Ukraine to show the reality of war. Onboard a humanitarian bus, alongside civilians forced to flee to escape the Russian bombs, he was fatally hit.

“I share the pain of the family, friends and colleagues of Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, to whom I extend my condolences. I wish to restate the unconditional support of France to all those who do the difficult work of informing the public from the ground in military theatres.”

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also issued a Tweet, which read: “Reporting should not cost anyone their life.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna, who is on a visit to Kiev, called for a “transparent investigation as soon as possible to shed full light on the circumstances of this tragedy”. 

In a meeting with Ms Colonna, Mr Zelensky said: “This is the Russian way. When Mariupol was evacuated, every second [civilian] convoy was targeted.” In a video broadcast later in the evening, Mr Zelensky offered his “sincere condolences to Frédéric’s colleagues and family”.

Mr Leclerc-Imhoff’s colleague, Ulysse Gosset, international politics specialist at BFMTV, was among those to pay tribute, saying: "He was one of the most brilliant journalists in the newsroom, he knew his job inside out.”

Audrey Azoulay, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), said in a statement that she "condemns the murder of Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff and calls for an investigation so that the perpetrators of this crime can be identified and brought to justice".

She added: "Journalists who work every day in Ukraine to inform us about the reality of war must be protected from attack”. She called on Russia and Ukraine to respect a Security Council resolution on the protection of media professionals in conflict zones. 

The French anti-terrorist office le Parquet national antiterroriste français announced on Monday evening that it was opening a judicial investigation into "war crimes".

In a statement, the office said: “The investigation is being conducted on charges of wilfully taking the life of a person protected under the international law of armed conflict, wilful attacks on persons not taking a direct part in the conflict and wilful attacks on personnel and vehicles employed in a humanitarian aid mission.”

Since the start of the war, around 40 BFMTV journalists have reported from Ukraine, on trips of 10-20 days each, all voluntarily.

It was the second time that Mr Leclerc-Imhoff had reported from Ukraine.

Cross-party condolences

Condolences have also come in from across the political spectrum in France. 

LREM party president at the National Assembly, Richard Ferrand, offered "his sincere condolences" to Mr Leclerc-Imhoff’s family and colleagues "on behalf of the National Assembly". 

On the left, former President François Hollande said that his “thoughts were with [the journalist’s] family, close friends and colleagues”, while Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of La France Insoumise, said that “those who kill civilians and journalists have some explaining to do”.

Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, wrote: “He was in Ukraine to do his job: To inform us. Sending all our sadness and respect,” while Green party head Yannick Jadot also said he “thoughts were with” those close to the journalist.

On the right, Gérard Larcher, Les Républicains president in the French Senate, expressed his "sadness" and "emotion on learning of the death of reporter Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, killed while exercising his profession and trying to inform us about the war in Ukraine". 

Valérie Pécresse, former LR presidential candidate, said she was "saddened by the death" of the journalist. 

Robert Ménard, mayor of Béziers and former president of Reporters Without Borders, said: “We have seen yet again that journalism is also about courage, even sacrifice.”

On the far-right, Jordan Bardella, interim president of the Rassemblement National, wrote of his "great sadness to learn of the death of a French journalist, Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff”. He added: "Immense respect for war reporters, who defend the freedom to inform while risking their lives.”

Russian response

Russia has appeared unmoved by the death. 

Official agency TASS claimed that Mr Leclerc-Imhoff "was not a journalist but a mercenary".

Andrey Marochko, one of the officers of the pro-Russian separatist forces, said that “it is clear…that [Mr Leclerc-Imhoff] was involved in the delivery of arms and ammunition to the positions of the extreme-right Ukrainian armed forces. That's why he was destined for such a sad end”.

Russia has also accused Kiev troops of "using civilians as human shields" and ambulance convoys to "transport ammunition and food to the armed forces".

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