Over the last eight years, Netpol has campaigned to highlight the increasing evidence that the police are categorising campaigners as ‘domestic extremists’ because of their political opinions.
This “domestic extremist” label is not defined in law but has nevertheless been applied on an indiscriminate blanket basis to participants in a wide range of campaign groups, including those who are actively opposing fracking, fox-hunting, nuclear weapons and the arms trade, s well as and anti-fascists and climate change campaigners.
There is no need to have a conviction or even face any suspicion of criminality to find yourself categorised in this way. The list of ‘domestic extremists’ includes Baroness Jenny Jones, comedian Mark Thomas, and veteran peace campaigner John Catt (below), none of whom have criminal records, as well as a number of journalists who appear to have been labelled ‘extremist’ simply for reporting on political protest and campaigns.
This is not a trivial issue: there are real and serious consequences for people categorised in this way. A ‘domestic extremism’ label may result in intrusive levels of police surveillance and may restrict employment, travel, and other aspects of day-to-day life.
It also risks curtailing the right of assembly and expression more widely, ‘chilling’ participation in public protest and campaigns and constraining the fundamental values that lie at the heart of a fair and free society.
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.
Who have the police called “Domestic Extremists”?
Green Party peer
Activist / comedian
Protest is not Extremism
There is no legal definition of ‘domestic extremism’ – meaning that police have complete discretion in deciding what it covers. It is, in effect, a made-up category which can be used to justify unnecessary and disproportionate police actions in situations where they would otherwise be wholly unreasonable.
The lack of clear statutory regulation of police surveillance mechanisms has been criticised by the UN Special Rapporteur for the right to freedom of assembly and by the European Court of Human Rights.
In January 2019 the European Court of Human Rights held that the police acted unlawfully in compiling and retaining 66 records of the political activities of peace campaigner John Catt on a ‘domestic extremism’ database. The court also expressed concern that UK law in this area was too vague and uncertain as to provide adequate protection against the arbitrary use of police powers.
What are we calling for?
The police must stop categorising campaigning and protest activities as ‘extremism’.
- Domestic extremism is defined so broadly that it encompasses any campaign making use of civil disobedience or direct action.
- Designating a campaign as ‘extremist’ means that all those associated with that campaign may also be labelled in this way – even if they do nothing unlawful.
- Alienates people from protest activity, restricting their ability to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and association
Protesters and campaigners must have better protection against routine surveillance
- The government is not meeting its legal duty to facilitate freedom of assembly and association.
- There is an urgent need for the state to recognise the harm that is done to protest rights by current police surveillance strategies.
- There is a need for independent oversight of police use of surveillance in relation to political protest
The policing of protest should be clearly separated from the policing of terrorism and extremism.
- ‘Domestic Extremism’ currently falls within the remit of Counter-Terrorism within the Metropolitan Police.
- This means that procedures and powers designed to counter terrorism are being used – or misused – in the policing of public order and protest.
- Protest policing should be separated from the policing of counter terrorism – political campaigners are not terrorists.
Find out what information the police may hold about you by making a Subject Access Request.
Find out how the government and police have struggled to define what domestic extremism means.
Find out how the domestic extremism label has moved out of the shadows.
What changes are we seeking?
We are calling on parliament to take action to protect the rights of campaigners and
- Policing bodies carry out ‘overt surveillance’ and collect and retain personal details of individuals only in clearly defined circumstances.
- Information relating to political activity is treated as a ‘special category’ of personal data as defined by the Data Protection Act 2018, and the processing of this data is restricted to limited circumstances
- The detrimental impact of police surveillance on the right to freedom of assembly is recognised and surveillance is undertaken only where necessary to prevent or prosecute specific offences.
iseffective oversight and increased transparency of police units related to ’domestic extremism’, including the operation of any ’domestic extremism’ database or equivalent
- The arbitrary definition of ’domestic extremism’ cannot be used to justify coercive police actions in relation to protest
groups,or the use of overt or covert surveillance strategies
- The policing of protest is disentangled from the policing of counter-terrorism.
Visit our comprehensive Resources section with documents from the government, the police and non-state sources,
You can support the campaign by:
Telling us your stories
How do you feel about the police labelling your campaigning as “extremism”? Read what other campaigners are saying and add your comments here.
If you have been contacted by police “domestic extremist” officers because of your campaigning activities, we would like to hear your experiences. Contact us in strictest confidence.
Demanding your data
The number of people who have been added to the domestic extremism database varies, depending on when data is added or removed. To find out whether your personal information has been added, you need to make a data protection subject access request. Find out how here.
Signing up in support of the campaign
Add our name to the list of supporters of our key demands by filling out the form below.
We need people to take a public stand in support of the campaign on social media, sharing the message the “Protest is Not Extremism”.
We are asking supporters to share photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with this core message. You can download and use the A4 sign we have produced (see above), or you can make your own.
Please use the hashtag #DomesticExtremist if you are sharing images.
Support our key demands
Protest is Not Extremism
- The police must stop categorising campaigning and protest activities as ‘extremism’.
- Protesters and campaigners must have better protection against routine surveillance.
- The policing of protest should be clearly separated from the policing of terrorism and extremism.
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.