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Government forced to reluctantly review controversial Prevent Extremism programme

22nd Feb 2019
Government forced to reluctantly review controversial Prevent Extremism programme

Security Minister, Ben Wallace, confirmed that the Government would accept a House of Lords amendment to its Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Photo: CC)

Hamed Chapman

The Government has finally agreed to allow a review of its highly controversial Prevent Extremism programme to supposedly stop young people from being groomed and exploited by terrorists but has yet to set out any terms of reference nor even who would conduct it.

The announcement was made by Security Minister, Ben Wallace, when he confirmed that the Government would accept a House of Lords amendment to its Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill for a review, adding that one was “in any event due to take place early in 2020, just 12 months away” under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

“I have decided that the time is now right to initiate a review of Prevent” to begin within six months of the new legislation receiving Royal Assent shortly, Wallace told Parliament before going on to attack critics and opponents of Prevent, which imposes statutory obligations on public sector workers, including doctors and teachers.

“I am pleased that this will give the critics of Prevent the opportunity to produce evidence, because time and again we have to spend time knocking down allegations without any evidence behind them. I will look forward to them producing that evidence as part of the process.”

Numerous civil liberties and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have been long calling for an independent review of Prevent, claiming it not only fosters discrimination against Muslims but also causes alienation and inhibits legitimate expression.

Muslim advocacy groups together with academics and senior officials have made it clear they have little or no confidence in Prevent and have called for the strategy to be abolished.

The Communities and Local Government Committee concluded in their inquiry into Prevent in 2010 that the proliferation of the counter-terror agenda had created a climate in which members of the Muslim community feel labelled as potential terrorists in all aspects of their life in the community

Last month, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, went as far as attacking critics of the Government’s controversial policy as being “on the side of the extremists”, claiming there were organisations putting out propaganda and false information to turn people away from Prevent, which aims to combat radicalisation that might lead people into terrorism.

“There are organisations out there that are trying to find ways to warp young people’s minds and they put out what you might call propaganda or false information to try and turn people away from it. We have to fight against that,” Javid said.

Wallace maintained that over the last two years the Home Office has built on the “solid work of Prevent” by releasing annual statistics that clearly show it is “not about singling out any particular group or ideology but is similar to other forms of safeguarding, carried out every day by social workers, teachers and police.”

Official figures show that since 2012 more than 1,200 people had been supported by Prevent’s Channel mentoring programme. By 2017/18, some 45 per cent of 394 people who received Channel support were referred in relation to so-called to “Islamist extremism”, while 44 per cent were related to rightwing extremism.

The review was given a rather cautious welcome from Labour’s Shadow Minister for Security, Nick Thomas-Symonds, saying it was an “acceptance that many had lost faith” in the programme and that “Prevent is supposed to keep our people safe, yet it isn’t working.”

“While nobody can question the commitment of those who work to try and deliver the policy on the frontline since it became statutory duty – we know from ground-level reports, Prevent is causing a massive strain and rift with key stakeholders and is often dubbed draconian,” Thomas-Symonds warned. He also voiced concerns about a conflict between the intelligence gathering and safeguarding aspects of the programme.

Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, also said that while his organisation welcomed the Government’s support for a review, “those tasked with its implementation must have the independence, credibility and trust required to deliver it.”

“For far too long, the Prevent strategy has affected the lives of innocent families, been criticised for mainstreaming discrimination and lost the trust of communities around the UK,” Khan said in reference to Muslims being grossly disproportionately targeted by the ill-judged policy.

“This latest step is crucial for all those who have campaigned for an independent review of Prevent. Everyone committed to developing a truly effective strategy for tackling terrorism understands that it must be transparent, accountable and hold the trust of communities.”

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