UN special rapporteur warns Prevent strategy risks “promoting extremism, rather than countering it”
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Friday April 22 2016
The Guardian reports on warning by Maina Kiai, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, who has said the Government’s Prevent programme risks “promoting extremism, rather than countering it.”
Kiai who has been on a three day visit to the UK sounded warnings about the counter-productive effects of the programme after hearing that the Prevent strategy was “creat[ing] unease and uncertainty around what can be legitimately discussed in public.”
“I heard reports of teachers being reported for innocuous comments in class, for example,” he said.
“The spectre of Big Brother is so large, in fact, that I was informed that some families are afraid of discussing the negative effects of terrorism in their own homes, fearing their children would talk about it at school and have their intentions misconstrued.
“By dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it,” he added.
The adverse impact of the Prevent strategy on Muslim communities has been widely reported with cases of schoolchildren being referred to the authorities as “vulnerable to radicalisation” for such banal things as mispronouncing or mis-spelling words, or because the use of innocent phrases have been miscontrued. Other incidents include students who have been targeted for displaying political affinity to the Palestinian cause and a headteacher who referred to the Prevent statutory duty in a letter explaining why a school would not relent to requests by Muslim pupils for a prayer room on site.
Among cases which have been publicised are the four year old pupil who mispronounced “cucumber” as “cooker bomb”; a 10 year old pupil who mis-spelt “terraced house” as “terrorist house”, and a pupil who was referred to a Prevent officer after he used the term “eco-terrorism” in a classroom discussion about climate change.
The statutory duty introduced in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act was widely criticised prior to enactment with academics and activists warning of the “chilling effect” of the duty on political consciousness, behaviour and academic freedom.
The Government has refused to countenance criticisms of the policy and has so far resisted calls by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, who has urged an “independent review” of the policy.
The warning by the Kiai reinforces criticisms levelled by the UN’s Human Rights Committee last year. The committee’s review of the UK’s compliance with the international covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR) warned of the UK’s need to review counter-terrorism laws and ensure their compliance with human rights obligations. The wider ramifications of the UK regressing from its human rights obligations were spelt out by Kiai who said “What you get is when the world starts thinking there is retrogression in terms of human rights and democracy [in Britain] that has a profound impact. What you find is way less open societies using that as an example: ‘It’s happening in Britain, Britain is restricting this, why can’t we?’”