February 08, 2023Featured Article Counter-Terrorism Prevent Surveillance Closing of civic space
(London, 8 February 2023) The purportedly independent review of the UK’ Prevent counter-extremism strategy belittles professional expertise, including that of doctors, psychologists and people who work with vulnerable adults, and does not demonstrate a serious approach to ending any form of violence, Rights & Security International said today.
Prevent is one part of CONTEST, the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy, and its stated intent is to stop people from being drawn into terrorism. Schools, hospitals and other public bodies in England, Wales and Scotland face a legal duty to refer people to Prevent for suspected ‘extremist’ views.
Today’s report, authored by Sir William Shawcross, comes over four years after the government announced the review. The previous reviewer, Lord Carlile, a supporter of the strategy, stood down from the post following RSI’s legal challenge alleging that he lacked independence.
‘This report displays shoddy research, dismisses the knowledge of experts – especially those in female-dominated professions such as psychology and community-based outreach and education – and instead promotes having arguments with vulnerable people about their opinions as a supposed cure for any threat of violence’, said Sarah St Vincent, Executive Director of RSI. ‘The government is not serious or consistent about preventing violence, including against women and minority groups, and this poorly evidenced report demonstrates that.’
The review was the subject of a widespread boycott by UK civil society organisations due to concerns about the potential for a failure to take the concerns of UK Muslims about Islamophobia in the operation of Prevent seriously. This risk has materialised, RSI said today.
While the report argues that ‘Prevent must seek to uphold the same standards across all extreme ideologies’, it supports a stringent and renewed focus on ‘Islamist extremism’, including views that do not promote violence. All case studies singled out for special emphasis involve Muslims. By contrast, the report states or implies that far-right or misogynist ‘incel’ views should only lead to Prevent referrals when there is an actual risk of violent activities.
Under international human rights treaties that are binding on the UK, the freedoms of thought and opinion are absolute. However, the report argues that Prevent should turn from prioritising safeguarding to attempting to change what people think, based on an apparent assumption that such arguments will prevent violence.
The report also makes little or no mention of Northern Ireland, the area of the UK that has been most affected by killings with apparently political motivations. The reviewer also does not appear to have sought data about the race or ethnicity of people referred to Prevent, despite known concerns about bias.
The UK government’s immediate and detailed response to the report, including an acceptance of or agreement with all recommendations, also suggests that the report was not genuinely independent, RSI said. In January 2023, in response to RSI’s freedom of information request, the Home Office disclosed emails indicating that the Home Office and the Home Secretary had edited a draft version of the report.
‘If the independent reviewer and the government want to protect public safety, as they should, then they should draw on the wealth of evidence and expertise available from a range of academic and professional disciplines – not propose arguing with people about their political or religious views. Moreover, it is long past time to stop using arbitrary and inconsistent definitions of ‘terrorism’, and treat all violence – including against women, Muslims, people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, members of Jewish communities and others – as serious and equally deserving of preventive efforts’, St Vincent concluded.
For more information, please contact Sabah Hussain (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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