French Leftwing Publisher Detained by UK Counter-Terrorism Police

They demanded access to his phone and laptop.

by Olly Haynes

18 April 2023

A protester holds a flare on 7 March. Olly Haynes
A protester holds a flare on 7 March. Olly Haynes

A French leftwing publisher has been arrested on his way to the London bookfair after being questioned by British counter-terrorism police over his attendance of protests in France.

Ernest Moret, 29, the foreign rights manager of Editions de La Fabrique, a radical Paris publishing house, was questioned by plain clothes officers, after stepping off the Eurostar with his colleague in St Pancras on Monday 17 March. The police cited the 2000 counter-terrorism act and demanded he relinquish the passcodes to his phone and laptop.

He was questioned for six hours and was subsequently arrested in the early hours of Tuesday morning after refusing to hand over the passcodes and was detained in Islington police station, according to a joint statement from Editions de La Fabrique and UK based radical publisher Verso.

Moret was due to attend a reception for publishers and agents at the French Institute in London at 7PM Tuesday evening, where the French ambassador to the UK will be present.

The joint statement from Verso and Editions de la Fabrique 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.”

“We consider that this assault on the freedom of expression of a publisher is yet another manifestation of the slide towards repressive and authoritarian measures taken by the current French government in the face of widespread popular discontent and protest. It is crucial for all defenders of basic democratic values to express in the strongest terms that we find this intolerable and outrageous.”

A protest has been arranged outside the institute at 7PM as well as a simultaneous protest outside the British embassy in Paris.

Moret’s lawyer Richard Parry told Novara Media that it is “disturbing because it sounds like they are stopping him to obtain any data and contacts and information on any forthcoming publishing works. I mean obviously some of the things that are being published are quite radical pamphlets”.

Parry said, “It’s not clear that the French have got the same legal powers to stop somebody without any suspicion and demand their pin and passwords to download all their devices. So, there is a suspicion that it is a very convenient way, under mutual assistance, for the British to get this information and hand it over to the French, where the French could not otherwise obtain it.”

Sebastien Budgen, a senior editor at Verso books, with whom Moret and his colleague Stella Magliani-Belkacem had arranged to stay, said, “the backdrop to all this is the protests in France, the increasingly repressive and authoritarian measure taken by the French government, both in terms of police violence and security clampdowns”.

Commenting on the reaction to the arrest in France, Budgen said, “There has been a big media flurry in France. This has shocked everyone in the media and publishing sphere and in our view it is clearly an abuse of the powers that they have.”

Moret’s arrest comes after a month in which President Macron has failed to pacify protests against his pension reform proposals. On 14 April strikes took place and widespread protests erupted after the Constitutional Council ruled that the pension reform was legal. Similarly protests broke out on 17 April following Macron’s address to the French public. The government is now looking nervously towards Mayday, which in recent years has seen intense clashes between protesters and trade unionists on one side, and police on the other.

Macron’s government is taking an increasingly hard line against the protests.

The government has moved to ban the environmental coalition Earth Uprising after clashes at protests against the construction of reservoirs for farmers which would privatise the water supply in Sainte-Soline. At the start of April, Gerald Darmanin, the interior minister, said he would refuse to concede to what he called “far-left intellectual terrorism”.

The French ambassador to the UK has been approached for comment.

A Met police spokesperson said: “At around 7:30PM on Monday, 17 April, A 28-year-old man was stopped by ports officers as he arrived at St Pancras station, using powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

“On Tuesday, 18 April, he was subsequently arrested on suspicion of wilfully obstructing a Schedule 7 examination (contrary to section 18 of the Terrorism Act 2000).

“The man was later bailed. Enquiries continue.”

Olly Haynes is a freelance journalist covering politics, culture and social movements.

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