UK’s National Union of Journalists and two publishers have condemned the Metropolitan police for using anti-terror laws to arrest a French publisher who arrived in London to attend the London Book Fair.
Ernest Moret, who is employed by Editions La Fabrique in Paris, was arrested after arriving at St. Pancras railway station to attend the book fair. The police stopped him under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which gives them broad powers to search people arriving at border crossings to see if they are involved in terrorism. The interrogation would have been illegal in France.
According to Editions La Fabrique, and its collaborating London-based publisher Verso Books, Moret refused to unlock his phone for the police. He was taken to a police station in North London.
“At around 1930 hrs on Monday, 17 April, a 28-year-old man was stopped by port officers as he arrived at St Pancras station, using powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000,” the Met said in a statement.
“On Tuesday, 18 April, the man was subsequently arrested on suspicion of willfully obstructing a Schedule 7 examination (contrary to section 18 of the Terrorism Act 2000). Enquiries continue.”
Editions La Fabrique said that Moret was detained for participating in demonstrations to protest French President Emanuel Macron raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Editions La Fabrique and Verso Books described the arrest as an “outrageous and unjustifiable infringement” of free speech and also an “abuse of anti-terrorism laws.”
“The police officers claimed that Ernest had participated in demonstrations in France as a justification for this act – a quite remarkably inappropriate statement for a British police officer to make and which seems to clearly indicate complicity between French and British authorities on this matter,” the two publishers said in a joint statement.
“It was demanded that he give up his phone and pass codes to the officers, with no justification or explanation offered. This morning, Ernest was formally arrested and transferred to a police station, accused of obstruction because of his refusal to give up his pass codes.”
Pamela Morton, of the National Union of Journalists, said it seemed “extraordinary” for police in the UK to use anti-terror law to detain a publisher “who was on legitimate business here.”
Speaking to the BBC, Verso Books senior editorial director Sebastian Budgen said: “It’s an extremely frightening kind of event when somebody who’s just conducting their professional activity coming to a book fair in London can be treated in this kind way as if they’re public enemy number one…
“[Editions La Fabrique] is a left [wing] publisher… We’ve had months now of massive protests in France, and I think from their perspective anybody who is a dissident or aligned with a dissident publisher is potentially some kind of criminal.
“Ernest is a 28-year-old foreign rights manager. He doesn’t have any particular power or influence. I think they just decided he’s someone good to pick on to see if they can get any intelligence.”