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UK police under fire for arresting French publisher

Ernest Moret, a foreign rights manager for popular science fiction author Alain Damasio as well as Editions La Fabrique, was on his way to the London Book Fair before being stopped by police officers on Monday evening [File: Carl de Souza/AFP]

The London Metropolitan Police have been condemned by writers, journalist unions and activists for questioning and detaining a French publisher under the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Act.

Ernest Moret, foreign rights manager for popular science fiction author Alain Damasio as well as Editions La Fabrique, was on his way to the London Book Fair when he was stopped by police officers on Monday evening.

Editions La Fabrique, in a joint statement with the British publishing house Verso Books, said police officers pulled Moret aside for questioning under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act after he arrived at London’s St Pancreas railway station.

The legislation gives police officers the power of stopping, questioning and detaining people to determine if they were involved in the “preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”, read a Metropolitan police’s definition.

The officers said Moret took part in demonstrations in France against a controversial pension reform, the publishers said in their statement.

France has been rocked by a wave of protests in recent months as President Emmanuel Macron pursued a widely unpopular bill which raises the retirement age by two years.

“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,” read the joint statement.

Moret was arrested and transferred to a police station after failing to give his phone and passcodes to the officers, the publishers said.

“We consider these actions to be outrageous and unjustifiable infringements of basic principles of the freedom of expression and an example of the abuse of anti-terrorism laws,” they added.

The UK’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) was among the organisations that condemned Moret’s arrest.

“The arrest of Ernest Moret is extremely concerning,” said Pamela Morton, NUJ representative. “It seems extraordinary that the British police have acted this way in using terrorism legislation to arrest the publisher who was on legitimate business here for the London Book Fair.”

The London Police Service did not name Moret but said they stopped a 28-year-old man under the Terrorism Act and then arrested him “on suspicion of wilfully obstructing a Schedule 7 examination”.

Later on Tuesday, police said he had been released on bail, without offering any further details, according to the AFP news agency.

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