William Eichler 19 October 2016

Whitehall should abandon ‘flawed’ counter-terrorism strategy

The Government’s counter-extremism strategy in health and education creates a ‘serious risk’ of human rights violations and is counterproductive, new report argues.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has published a report that warns Whitehall’s Prevent strategy, which imposes a statutory duty on health and education bodies to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’, is flawed.

The policy requires frontline staff to report individuals believed to be at risk of being drawn into terrorism, which includes anyone who voices opinions deemed to be extremist.

The Government’s definition of extremism is ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.’

Eroding Trust: The UK’s Prevent Counter-Extremism Strategy in Health and Education found the statutory duty on education and healthcare professionals is leading to a tendency to over-refer individuals seen as being at risk of being drawn into terrorism.

It also learnt of a number of cases that appear to violate the rights of service users. For example, they report some Prevent officers apparently fed a psychologist questions to ask her patient with a view to relaying the answers back to them.

In another case, nine and ten year-old predominantly Muslim students were asked by a funding organisation in an art class, apparently without informed consent, to fill out a questionnaire to elicit their political opinions for the Home Office.

The report warned this was damaging trust between teachers and students and doctors and patients, and undermining relations between the police and the Muslim community—‘an essential element of counter-terrorism efforts.’

‘To effectively counter the real threat of terrorism, the Government must let health and education professionals get on with their jobs and use their common sense and professional judgement to intervene where genuinely warranted,’ said the report’s author, Amrit Singh.

‘Conscripting these professionals to counter a vaguely defined concept of “extremism” under a statutory duty is only making things worse by violating human rights, generating fear and distrust, and alienating Muslim communities while undermining their access to health and education.

‘The Government and health and education bodies should heed the voices in this report and abandon the flawed aspects of the Prevent strategy.’

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