Evidence shows just how unethical the government is willing to get as it tries to tackle extremism

Support us and go ad-free

A new report launched by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) has found that the UK government’s Prevent strategy has serious structural flaws that creates a serious risk of human rights violations and is also counterproductive by damaging trust between teachers and health professionals and members of the UK’s Muslim community, which is essential to counterterrorism efforts.

The government’s Prevent strategy, which has been in operation since 2011, has caused great controversy.

In its current form its aim is “to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism”. But after the passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, a statutory duty was imposed on certain authorities to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism – The Prevent Duty.

Included among these authorities were schools, universities and NHS Trusts, which means teachers, doctors and psychologists, in positions of trust, have to report on and refer certain individuals who they think may be vulnerable to violent or non-violent ‘extremism’. The strategy and the duty has caused widespread concerns, but in particular within the health and education sectors, as the Prevent duty appears to be in direct contradiction to their duty to care.

The OSJI report, ‘Eroding Trust‘, for the first time forms an independent assessment of the strategy exclusively in these sectors and concludes that the Prevent strategy “suffers from multiple, mutually reinforcing structural flaws, the foreseeable consequence of which is a serious risk of human rights violations”.

Overreach into “everyday lawful discourse”

Some of the key traits of the Prevent strategy are principles based on ambiguous concepts, including that of ‘non-violent extremism’ and ‘British values’. These principles then lie in the ‘pre-criminal’ space. A former Chief Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, Dal Babu, told the authors of the report:

This is a very dangerous road to go down – I don’t know what it means to be ‘pre-criminal’- -I suspect it means holding a certain point of view.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

It is thought these ‘points of view’ allow someone to be easily exploited by terrorists. But evidence suggests that the underlying assumption that these views have a direct causal link to terrorism is false. It therefore, vilifies and stigmatises individuals for having done nothing wrong.

Fudged vulnerability factors

The report also refers to the 22 factors that make up the assessment tool to judge whether someone is vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism. It has been taken from a prison population sample and is known as the Extremism Risk Guidance (ERG). But Andrew Silke, a counter-terrorism expert and adviser to the government, says:

The ERG factors are essentially working hypotheses to account for how an individual became engaged and to capture the features of their mind-set, their intentions and their capability for terrorism. None of these factors has a demonstrated link with future offending, so are as yet unproven.

These indicators however have been spread throughout the country through training courses for those under the Prevent duty. In the West Midlands for example, a list of indicators for teachers to look out for, included if a child has a different group of friends, strongly held political beliefs, if they change the way they dress, or if there is a drop in grades. Many may fall into these categories without having anything to do with terrorism, which penalises them for their views and violates their freedom of expression.

The risks

These flaws in the strategy make it virtually ineffective – as well as harmful.

The legal duty to report has meant that there have been over-referrals.  Health professionals risk breaching their confidentiality with patients. And Muslims experience institutionalised discrimination in these two key sectors.

There are also serious concerns about the treatment of children under the strategy. The government describes it as “safeguarding”, as if to say they are promoting the welfare of children and protecting them from harm. In essence though, Prevent has a very different aim.

It can also undermine education. Case studies within the report have cited the cancellation of conferences, and that individuals have been weary of expressing views or being critical of Prevent for fear of retaliation. This in itself could cause more harm as it drives discourse underground, and be responsible for promoting, rather than preventing, extremism.

In short, the Prevent strategy has not been found to reign in extremism, but has simply created more risks to Muslims in a climate of Islamophobia. It seems the strategy needs a complete overhaul if the government is really serious about tackling terrorism.

Get Involved!

– Write to your MP about the Prevent programme.

– Read more Canary articles on the Prevent strategy.

Support The Canary if you appreciate the work we do.

Featured image via Flikr/Darren Johnson

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed