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.
For years, Netpol has highlighted the gap between what campaigners expect their rights to freedom of assembly, as set out in the Human Rights Act, to mean and what tends to happen in practice.
Our campaigning has focused in particular on attempts by the government and the police to deliberately alienate the wider public from protests, by labelling campaigners’ demands as “extremist”. This in turn has been used to justify increasingly intrusive surveillance, more aggressive police tactics and more arrests – restricting protesters further from exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and association.
We have had a number of important victories: in 2019, we pushed the Home Office and other government departments to confirm they were abandoning the highly subjective, politically-loaded “domestic extremists” label and in 2020, we have secured the same commitment from the police.
There are some indications too that another of Netpol’s key demands – the complete separation of public order policing from the policing of terrorism threats – is finally underway.
However, despite repeatedly called on the police to properly set out what proportionately “facilitating” protests in Britain actually means, they have repeatedly failed to do so.
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.
It takes time and energy to defend our right to freely assemble in public without facing the threat of arrest or harassment from the police – and it takes the support of people like you.