The Information Commissioner, in rejecting an appeal by Netpol over the refusal of the police to release details of a programme to ‘deradicalise extremists’, has endorsed unfounded and unsubstantiated links between anti-fracking protests and the threat of terrorism.
In October 2015, we asked Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside police for details of referrals made in the prior ten months through Channel, a ‘counter radicalisation’ process that is part of the government’s anti-terrorism Prevent strategy. Channel supposedly offers voluntary support to people identified as “vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism” and although there are a number of agencies involved in it, the police play a central role in its delivery. Rather than overall statistics, we asked specifically for the number of individuals seen as allegedly at risk through their involvement in anti-fracking campaigns.
Our requests were the result of concerns raised with us by campaigners from the region who were angered that their opposition to fracking had been used as an excuse to refer them to Channel, in most cases by universities or further education colleges. All related to an alleged ‘risk’ to adults rather than children.
In a startling determination, the Information Commissioner has said:
Channel may be appropriate for anyone who is vulnerable to being drawn into any form of terrorism… It follows from this that, for a referral to be made to Channel, it must be suspected that an individual is at risk of becoming involved in terrorist related activity.
In effect, the Commissioner is insisting nobody is referred unless there is a good reason for doing so – even if this is for nothing more than expressing legitimate political opinions about fracking. Read more
Netpol has put together a new guide for activists on how to start resisting the government’s Prevent strategy at a local level
As part of our support for Together Against Prevent, the campaign tactic adopted by a growing number of organisations, this guide is intended to help activists to organise locally in order to resist the government’s draconian and discriminatory Prevent strategy.
This is a first version that we plan to extend as we discover new ideas for action – if you have any suggestions, contact us. The guide is also a Creative Commons document so please feel free to copy, adapt and expand on it. The text is set out below.
Government unveils new ‘counter-extremist’ bill – but still cannot define what extremism actually means
While most of the media insisting this week’s Queen’s Speech was largely overshadowed by the EU referendum, one new law proposed this week looks set to create even more controversy as existing ‘anti-radicalisation’ legislation, already sweeping, is strengthened further.
The government plans to introduce a Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill, which will ‘prevent radicalisation, tackle extremism in all its forms, and promote community integration’. A statement by the Home Office says it will protect “against the most dangerous extremists” and give police “a full range of powers to deal with extremism”.
Another counter-terrorism bill also formed part of the Queen’s Speech in May last year. It was subsequently criticised by David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws, who said it risked legitimising “the state to scrutinise [and the citizen to inform upon] the exercise of core democratic freedoms by large numbers of law-abiding people”. A year on, that bill had completely failed to progress any further because the government has been unable to find a “legally robust” definition of what ‘extremism’ actually means. Read more
The UN’s Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai is visiting the UK next week. We assess what has changed in relation to the freedom to take part in protests – and what issues remain a concern – since his last official visit three years ago.
Netpol was one of a number of groups who met Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, when he last visited the UK in January 2013. His report on that visit was published in June 2013 [, 588 kB].
Next week we are meeting him again. Here are some issues we think he should consider – and a reminder of how in a number of important respects, little has changed since his last report. Read more
Police forces in north west England have refused to confirm whether they use opposition to fracking as an example of ‘extremism’ in training delivered to hundreds of people – and will not say how many anti-fracking activists were referred this year to a controversial ‘anti-radicalisation’ process
The government’s counter-terrorism Prevent strategy is now a statutory duty for most public authorities since the introduction this year of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. Its guidance insists it offers a “risk-based approach”, through a multi-agency programme called Channel, to ‘help’ individuals from becoming ‘drawn into radicalisation’. Information about allegedly vulnerable people is shared between a number of different agencies to individually tailor “the most appropriate support plan” for them.
However, this ‘helpful’ programme is extremely lacking in openness and accountability. In spite of the potentially severe consequences of the state intervening to impose ‘support’ on someone arbitrarily accused of extremism, it is almost impossible to find out any information about Prevent or its equally secretive Channel process. Read more
The government’s forthcoming ‘extremism’ bill can be defeated, but it will take mass opposition.
This is a guest post by Netpol’s Emily Apple, published by The Canary.
According to Home Secretary, Theresa May, we face “an unprecedented threat from extremists,” which she plans to tackle with a host of draconian measures scheduled to be published in the counter-extremist bill this autumn.
However, when Theresa May was asked on the BBC to define extremism, she was evasive and fudged her answer. Instead, she dismissed the question by saying “the strategy has a definition” without further elaborating. This strategy refers to the definition of extremism given in the glossary of terms in the Prevent Agenda Guidance. It is unsurprising she didn’t expand her answer given there are so many ambiguities to the term. It is described as “vocal or active opposition” to that other ill-defined phrase, “British values”, including “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” Read more
Netpol and other campaign groups are launching a new way to show opposition to the government’s Prevent ‘anti-radicalisation’ strategy
Today, Netpol joined other campaigning organisations, including Campaign Against the Arms Trade and the Islamic Human Rights Commission, to launch a new way for opponents of Prevent, the government’s ‘anti-radicalisation’ programme, to make a public stand against its draconian surveillance methods and the systematic targeting of political dissent, particularly within Muslim communities. Read more
This week’s Guardian report revealing how a City of London Police presentation to nursery staff included Occupy, environmentalists and student protesters alongside al-Qaeda and the IRA has attracted understandable anger. Our full comment to journalist Ben Quinn, some of which appeared in the article, said:
In our experience, the City of London Police’s conflation of protest with terrorism and violence is unfortunately repeated up and down the country, the result of including ill-defined labels like “domestic extremism” within the language and strategies of counter-terrorism.
Programmes like the government’s Prevent strategy overwhelmingly target and stigmatise Muslim communities but as ‘Project Fawn’ shows, they also provide plenty of scope to include almost any group of political activists that the police dislike or consider an inconvenience. These slides show a real disdain for legitimate rights to exercise freedoms of expression and assembly in a free society,which leads to individuals having their lawful activities recorded and retained on secret police intelligence databases.
Seeking to convince nursery staff to identify and report such a broad range of dissenting voices is sinister and alarming, but we fear it’s about to become commonplace. The new statutory duty for front-line public services to participate in ‘anti-radicalisation’ – not just the police, but GPs, hospitals and schools – risks creating an army of snoopers and informants, quietly noting down more and more people’s ‘unacceptable’ political views. Read more
In hospital departments, council offices, GP surgeries and schools across the country, trainers are preparing an army of staff for a new ‘war on terrorism’: their task, to identify those who may have supposedly stepped onto “an escalator of radicalisation”.
From today, provisions within the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 shift the government’s controversial anti-radicalisation strategy, ‘Prevent’, from a voluntary programme into a statutory duty for most front-line public services, including private sector contractors. They can no longer choose whether to participate and regulators such as Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission will measure how effectively public sector bodies deliver on this duty.
The ‘Prevent’ strategy has been around for a decade and its attempt to divert individuals allegedly at risk of radicalisation, through ‘support’ provided by multi-agency panels, has always been highly contentious. In March this year, the strategy was described by one senior police officer as a ‘toxic brand’ because of the way it discriminates against Muslims and some argue that, far from stopping people from supporting terrorism, it has potentially made matters worse. One academic has said that “by putting a magnifying glass across the Muslim communities of Great Britain, what has happened is that has widened the schism between the ‘Muslim’ us and the British ‘other’.” Read more
Counter-terror police contact parents of Birmingham student protester over alleged ‘domestic extremism’
Counter-terrorism police have approached the parents of a student who was arrested during a protest earlier this year at Birmingham University, asking to discuss ‘concerns’ about his behaviour.
Thirteen students were arrested for offences including aggravated trespass, assault and criminal damage at the demonstration in January 2014, which saw West Midlands Police officers kettle protesters for up to four hours, with no access to food, water or toilet facilities. By the end of March, the CPS had dropped all charges against the defendants due to lack of evidence and five students suspended by the university were reinstated.
Last week, however, the parents of one of the students suddenly received a letter from a West Mercia Police officer, Detective Constable Jemma Greenow, who said she was “working within the Prevent agenda, part of the Contest Strategy, which is the Government’s strategy regarding Counter Terrorism and Domestic Extremism”. Greenow indicated that she had been asked to get in contact by West Midlands Police, “who have received some concerns about your son”. Read more