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French publisher asks UK police to cease investigation

By BRIAN MELLEY and SYLVIE CORBET, BRIAN MELLEY and SYLVIE CORBET, Associated Press
Published: April 19, 2023, 7:45am

LONDON (AP) — A French publisher called on British police Wednesday to cease their investigation of an employee who it said was arrested on his way to the London Book Fair and questioned for hours about French President Emmanuel Macron’s government and his pension reforms that sparked months of protests.

Ernest Moret, foreign rights manager at Editions La Fabrique, was freed Tuesday but had his phone and work computer seized by police and was told to return to the U.K. in four weeks, the publisher said.

Circumstances over his arrest remained unclear two days after Moret was detained and questioned after arriving at St. Pancras railway station on Monday night from Paris.

London’s Metropolitan Police wouldn’t name Moret or provide information about why he was stopped.

But a police spokesperson said a 28-year-old man stopped at the train station when Moret arrived was interviewed by port officers under a law that allows them to question someone who may be involved in terrorism. Under the law, an officer may stop and question someone without grounds for suspecting the person is or has been involved in terrorism.

The publishers said officers justified questioning Moret by claiming he participated in the turbulent protests against Macron’s decision to raise the age of retirement from 62 to 64.

The publisher, which said French authorities had been complicit in the matter, suggested they had “whispered” questions to their British counterparts. In addition to the “disturbing questions” about the French government, Moret was also asked to name anti-government authors the publisher worked with.

“Asking the representative of a publishing house, in an anti-terrorism context, questions about his authors’ opinions means pushing even further the logic of political censorship and repression of dissenting views,” La Fabrique said. “In a context of increasing authoritarianism of the French government, in the midst of a social movement, this element is chilling.”

Police said the man was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of willfully obstructing their examination.

The publisher said Moret was arrested for refusing to provide passwords to unlock his phone.

A person being questioned under the Terrorism Act of 2000 can be found in violation of the law if they don’t provide passwords or codes to unlock electronic devices, according to the law.

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said the suspect had been been released on bail on Tuesday evening. No charges were filed, but the investigation continued.

The French Foreign Ministry said it had no information or comment on what led to the arrest. It said it had offered Moret consular protection.

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