UK: Publisher’s arrest is an assault on right to privacy and free speech

UK: Publisher’s arrest is an assault on right to privacy and free speech - Civic Space

London St Pancras International, where Ernest Moret was arrested. Photo: Ed Webster / Wikimedia Commons

The arrest of a man by counter-terrorism police in the United Kingdom is an assault on personal freedom and the right to privacy, and a shocking example of the UK authorities’ increasing lean towards authoritarian practices.

ARTICLE 19 stands in solidarity with Ernest Moret, an employee for French publishing house Éditions la Fabrique, who was arrested at St Pancras station after arriving to London from Paris, and was reportedly interrogated for six hours after he refused to surrender his passcodes to his phone and computer.

Éditions la Fabrique issued a statement after the incident, which took place on Monday, 17 April, confirming Moret had been ‘asked some very disturbing questions’. His views on President Emmanuel Macron and the row over the pension age in France, as well the names of any ‘anti-government’ authors published by his employers were said to be included in officers’ line of enquiry.

‘The hypocrisy of the UK government on freedom of expression is as shocking as it is predictable,’ said Quinn McKew, Executive Director for ARTICLE 19. ‘Protecting controversial opinions and writings, from all viewpoints, is at the core of freedom of expression, yet we’ve seen time and again how the government preferences right-wing extreme opinions over more left-wing ones while trying to position itself as a free speech champion. A real free speech champion would immediately reform the counter-terrorism laws under which Moret was detained; this case of overreach by the police makes clear how it enables abuse of authority and undermines the rights to expression and opinion.’

This recent assault follows last year’s introduction of a new policing law,  the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which strikes at the heart of the right to protest, characterising protest nuisance and disruption rather than a human right, and criminalising direct action. It comes on the heels of government efforts to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights that threatens to erode rights, not strengthen them. The recent arrest of Ernest Moret is not only a sign of the UK police’s growing intolerance of dissent, but could also hint to further restrictions on personal freedoms in the run up to the coronation of King Charles early next month.