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Criminality through undercover policing operations and investigations

26th Feb 2021
Criminality through undercover policing operations and investigations

Apsana Begum MP (Photo credit: David Woolfall/UK Parliament)

Apsana Begum MP

I, like many others, have been utterly astounded at the chilling gravity and significance of the Covert Human Intelligence Services (CHIS) Bill, which seeks to decriminalise criminal conduct by intelligence or undercover-agents.

In many ways, we shouldn’t be surprised, barely a week passes without the Conservative Government announcing yet another departure from recognised rules of domestic and international law.

Last summer (2020), the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill passed through Parliament, delaying the long-awaited review of Prevent and introduced significant curtailments of civil liberties, which will disadvantage ethnic minorities in particular.

The subsequent appointment of William Shawcross—who as head of the Charity Commission from 2012 to 2018, was accused of unfairly targeting Muslim charities—to lead the Prevent review, is further evidence of the Government’s offensive approach.

As a Muslim growing up in East London in the years after 9/11, I have seen first-hand some of the effects of the so-called ‘war on terror.’ Across recent decades, as wars have raged across the world, at home we have seen rising Islamophobia, the steady erosion of civil rights, and the installation of cameras on street corners.

Our communities are, too often, seen not as citizens worthy of equality and respect, but as a threat viewed with hostility and suspicion.

Indeed, Prevent has been widely criticised for fostering discrimination against people of Muslim faith or background. Prevent was developed without a firm evidence base and is rooted in a vague and expansive definition of extremism – including overt targeting of Muslim children in schools and has meant that our Muslim young people, in particular, are increasingly being viewed through the lens of security.

Undercover tactics used in counter-terror operations have reportedly included – officers posing as Muslims – attending prayer congregations and services.

Of course, the clear “lawlessness” of undercover-agents has for many years been argued to make working-class, migrant, and BAME communities feel less safe.

Undercover-agents are widely understood to have been sent to spy on the families of racist murder victims, such as the parents of Stephen Lawrence and Ricky Reel and are accused of manipulating young female activists into long-term sexual relationships to bolster their false identities.

Historically, environmental groups have infamously been infiltrated – along with social justice campaigns such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, campaigns for justice of victims of police violence and trade unions.

The Government’s CHIS Bill will now allow the police and the security services to commit crimes without fear of facing prosecution. Nothing in the proposed law explicitly limits, which crimes are permitted; thereby, providing blanket immunity from prosecution, even for crimes such as murder, torture and rape, inevitably leading human rights groups such as Amnesty to call the proposed legislation a ‘Licence to Kill Bill.’

As such, the Bill has triggered alarm bells for trade unions and justice campaigns such as the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, who fear that these latest draconian powers will be used to interfere with the legitimate activities of trade unions.

The deployment of agent provocateurs to commit and incite criminal activity, misconduct, malpractice and corruption during the miners’ strike has been well-documented, i.e., the idea being to sabotage and “destroy from within.”

The use of undercover police posing as protestors, committing crimes and provoking violence (including a violent response from the authorities) has been discussed in the public domain in recent years regarding Black Lives Matter protests, actions against climate change, and G20 demonstrations. Simply put – how can it be right to deal with criminality by authorising criminality?

It is because I believe in a free and democratic society that I will oppose this Government’s authoritarianism with all my might. Our police and security services exist to uphold the rule of the law not to break it.

Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse

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