The government’s counter-terrorism ‘Prevent’ strategy has been around for over a decade and its attempt to divert individuals allegedly at risk of “radicalisation”, through multi-agency panels, has always been highly contentious.
Netpol believes Prevent criminalises legitimate dissent by collecting intelligence about the thoughts and beliefs of individuals who are not involved in criminal activity, overwhelmingly targeting British Muslims. It is, at its core, fundamentally racist and Islamophobic.
However, Prevent also extends its focus to political activists more generally, particularly those engaged in international solidarity activities, opposition to powerful corporate interests, support for animal rights or resistance to fascism.
The label of “domestic extremist” remains a critical justification for this surveillance, even though a credible definition robust enough to withstand legal scrutiny has proven elusive.
Up and down the country, however, police officers at Prevent training sessions have continued to brand a range of protest movements as ‘extremist’, based on little more than speculation and ill-informed opinion.
Legal challenges to Prevent
Since 2015, Netpol has conducted a protected legal challenge against the labelling of anti-fracking campaigners as extremists.
In 2015 we asked five police forces from the north west of England for details of referrals made about campaigners identified as “vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism” allegedly through their involvement in anti-fracking campaigns.
When all five refused to release this information, we appealed to the Information Commissioner and when our appeal was rejected, began a legal challenge through the First-Tier Information Rights Tribunal.
This case is expected to reach a hearing in May 2018 – over three and a half years after the initial request was made.
Guidance on resisting Prevent
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 introduced a new legal requirement covering every local authority, every educational institution and every NHS Trust “to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
Prevent changed from a voluntary programme into a statutory duty for most front-line public services, including private sector contractors.
In 2016, Netpol published a guide for activists on how to start resisting the government’s Prevent strategy at a local level.
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