The Government announced today in the Queen’s Speech that it will be introducing the Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill. The Bill will build upon the widely criticised Prevent Strategy and introduce further controversial measures to counter ‘extremism’.
In doing so the Government is choosing to ignore the many and serious criticisms that have been made of Prevent, including that it undermines key civil liberties, among them the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Prevent has also been criticised for the fact that it is plainly ineffective. It alienates the very communities that need to be engaged to combat extremism.
As noted by Yasmine Ahmed, Director of Rights Watch (UK), one of the primary concerns with the Prevent strategy and the Bill more generally is that it is based on “an overly broad and vague definition of ‘extremism’ which serves to clamp down on open expression and debate and has a chilling effect on free speech across society.”
This concern has been echoed by international commentators including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kai, who has noted with concern that
“this lack of definitional clarity, combined with the encouragement of people to report suspicious activity, has created unease and uncertainty around what can legitimately be discussed in public.”
Yasmine Ahmed added:
“In addition to undermining core democratic values, the UK Government’s current counter extremism policy is also counter-productive as it stigmatizes and isolates the very communities who are needed in the fight against violent extremism.
Before rushing to introduce this Bill, the Government should reflect on whether current laws, including various precursor offences under the Terrorism Act, as well as existing hate speech offences are not sufficient to deal with the problem. Just introducing further problematic legislation is not the solution.”