Prevent review ‘has no legitimacy', say human rights campaigners
Human rights group Amnesty has heavily criticised a long-awaited review of the Government's anti-extremism programme, claiming it is “riddled with biased thinking”.
The charity's racial justice director Ilyas Nagdee said the report by William Shawcross had no legitimacy, and claimed the anti-radicalisation Prevent scheme had unfairly targeted Muslim social activists.
Mr Shawcross said in his review published on Wednesday that accusations Prevent was anti-Muslim were an insult and alleged that there was a concerted campaign to undermine it.
The report said: “The caricature of Prevent as an authoritarian and thinly veiled means of persecuting British Muslims is not only untrue, it is an insult to all those in the Prevent network doing such diligent work to stop individuals from being radicalised into terrorism.”
But reacting to the review, Mr Nagdee said: “This review is riddled with biased thinking, errors, and plain anti-Muslim prejudice – frankly, the review has no legitimacy.
“William Shawcross's history of biased comments on Muslims and Islam should have precluded his involvement in this ill-starred review in the first place.
“There's mounting evidence that Prevent has specifically targeted Muslim communities and activists fighting for social justice and a host of crucial international issues, including topics like the climate crisis and the oppression of Palestinians.
“There is growing evidence that Prevent is having disastrous consequences for many people; eroding freedom of expression, clamping down on activism, creating a compliant generation and impacting on individual rights enshrined in law.
“A proper independent review of Prevent should have looked at the host of human rights violations that the programme has led to, but these have largely been passed over in silence.”
Labour MP Zarah Sultana accused Mr Shawcross of having an “anti-Muslim attitude” in the Commons on Wednesday.
She said: “Shawcross's anti-Muslim attitude is well known. He said, for example, that ‘Europe and Islam are the most terrifying problem of our future'.
“Human rights groups said this attitude meant that the review's supposed objectivity was a farce, warning that it would ignore Prevent's discriminatory impact and its undermining of democratic freedoms. That warning has been borne out today.”
But Home Secretary Suella Braverman rejected any suggestion that Prevent is unfairly stigmatising Muslims and added: “I have nothing but gratitude for William Shawcross and his very firm and robust work.”
The report published on Wednesday suggested that some groups, including extremist factions, had deliberately spread misinformation about Prevent.
It said: “There is a concerted campaign by some, including a number of Islamist groups, to undermine and delegitimise Prevent through the spread of disinformation, misinformation and half-truths.”
The report continued: “This campaign has been particularly damaging because of the way in which it has focused many of its efforts within British Muslim communities, discouraging those communities from engaging with Prevent, while also stirring up grievance and mistrust towards wider British society, non-Muslims, and those Muslims who do engage with Prevent and counter-extremism.
“I was particularly concerned to learn that Muslims working in Prevent have suffered intimidation and even death threats.”
Mr Shawcross called on the Government to do more to tackle “the disinformation and demonisation around Prevent”, and protect frontline staff.
Elsewhere in the Commons, MPs expressed concerns about the Government's approach to Prevent.
Labour MP Kevan Jones, a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, told Ms Braverman: “I fear in her attempt to construct the hierarchy of terrorism threats, which she's trying to do, she will play into the hands of those in the Islamic community who actually want to damage Prevent.”
Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson (Twickenham) said she “deeply regrets the tone” of some of Ms Braverman's remarks, adding: “To combat violent extremism we must engage with marginalised communities and by demonising one community in particular – which her language has sought to do today – we are doing precisely the opposite.”
Ms Braverman replied: “We all need to be intellectually honest about the situation and we must not shy away from speaking the truth, however uncomfortable that may be. I've not sought, nor do I ever seek, to demonise any particular community in this country, and it's frankly disgusting to see politicians here repeating the smears which have been thrown at Prevent for far too long.”