Arrest of science fiction rights manager by British antiterrorism police condemned, prompts protest in London and France

Ernest Moret, the foreign rights manager for radical French publisher Éditions La Fabrique, and award-winning science fiction author Alain Damasio, was arrested by antiterrorism police on arrival at St Pancras, London on Monday, on his way to the London Book Fair.

He was later released on bail.

The action by police prompted angry reaction on both sides of the Channel, from his publisher and a number of other organisations, and widespread and, in several instances, critical press reports by both British and French news media.

Moret’s arrest prompted alarm from various organisations, including the National Union of Journalists, and a demonstration outside the French Institute last night, calling on the French Ambassador, Helene Duchene, to request Ernest’s immediate release. There was a simultaneous protest at the British Embassy in Paris.

The London Book Fair is an annual three-day major publishing festival at Kensington Olympia, welcoming around 25,000 people from the industry and related fields. The police action has almost certainly prompted concern among many international attendees, particularly as the event is highlighting the war in Ukraine, regarded by many as an attack on democracy.

In a joint press release published yesterday from Éditions La Fabrique and Verso Books, before Moret’s release, both publishers protested the “scandalous” treatment of a French citizen, who had arrived in the UK with his colleague Stella Magliani-Belkacem, the editorial director at the Paris-based publishing house.

Verso Books editorial director Sebastian Budgen told The Bookseller that he was meant to provide accommodation to Moret and Stella Magliani-Belkacem, who was not arrested.

“Ernest came to London … by Eurostar for the London Book Fair, which takes place at Olympia over three days from 18-20 April,” the publishers explained. “Ernest had over thirty appointments planned with foreign publishers and had a return ticket to Paris for Friday 21 April.”

He had also been invited to a reception on Tuesday evening at the French Institute at which the French Ambassador was to be present.

“On arrival at St Pancras Station, Ernest was pulled aside by police officers acting under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and detained for questioning without a lawyer present, allegedly to determine whether he was engaged in terrorist acts or in possession of material for use in terrorism.

“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.

“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. He remains in police custody.

“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.”

The Guardian reported the writers’ association Pen International said it was “deeply concerned” that Moret was detained on counter-terrorism grounds.

“The arrest of Ernest Moret is extremely concerning,” commented Pamela Morton, senior books and magazines organiser for the National Union of Journalists.

“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 French embassy in London did not immediately respond to media requests for comment.

The organisers of the London Book Fair declined to comment on the arrest.

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides designated ports officers with the powers to investigate people who pass through the UK’s borders. Specially trained police officers are allowed to stop, question and when necessary, search and detain, individuals and goods to determine whether they may be “involved or concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”.

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