Amnesty International, Liberty and the Runneymede Trust are among 17 organisations that have said they will boycott a review of the government’s anti-terror Prevent scheme.
The review is being led by William Shawcross, former chair of the Charity Commission, who was accused of disproportionately focusing on Muslim organisations during his time in the role.
In a joint letter released today, 17 organisations said they have no confidence in the process and intended to run their own “parallel review” of Prevent led by civil society groups.
The independent review was originally going to be led by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, but he was removed in 2019 after it emerged that he had expressed support for Prevent in the past.
The government announced last month that Shawcross had been chosen as his replacement.
The charities said that they have “grave concern at the UK government’s appointment of William Shawcross as the new reviewer of the counter-terrorism strategy Prevent.
“Shawcross has been appointed to replace Lord Carlile, who was removed from the post following a legal challenge last year.
“The appointments of both Shawcross and Lord Carlile have made clear, beyond doubt, that the UK government has no interest in conducting an objective and impartial review of the strategy, nor in engaging meaningfully with communities affected by it”.
The review would be a “whitewash” without different leadership, the charity said.
Prevent review is 'fundamentally flawed'
The charities added that they “cannot be complicit in a process that serves only to rubber stamp a fundamentally flawed strategy.
“We therefore announce a collective boycott of the Prevent review.
“In lieu of participating in the government’s review, civil society groups will conduct a parallel review that properly considers the harms of Prevent, including documenting discrimination and rights violations caused by it”.
The other groups backing the move are Article 19, Big Brother Watch, C.A.R.E, CAGE, CRIN, DefendDigitalMe, Inclusive Mosque Initiative, Maslaha, Medact, MEND, Network for Police Monitoring, No More Exclusions, Northern Police Monitoring Project, and the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Runnymede: Worry about community relations
Nick Treloar, research analyst at the Runnymede Trust, told Civil Society News: “Our decision to boycott the independent Prevent review stems from more than 15 years of a system that has disproportionately targeted Muslim communities.
“Not only has [it] been proven time and again that Prevent is a discriminatory tool, but that this latest review is anything but 'independent'.
He added: “The sharp end of the security apparatus of the state continues to target minority ethnic communities and Prevent worsens community relations.
“We agree that any form of terrorism is abhorrent and must be rooted out, but Prevent is a tool which does not have the trust of the communities it proposes to serve and deepens tensions which foster increased Islamophobia.”
CAGE and Shawcross
Muhammad Rabbani, the managing director of CAGE, which also signed today’s letter, said: “We encourage campaigning groups and organisers to join the call for boycotting the review as well as redoubling opposition to the counter-extremism apparatus on the whole, including calling to end Prevent, which is now openly a means of criminalising dissent.”
CAGE, which is not a charity, has clashed with the Charity Commission when Shawcross was its chair.
In 2015 the regulator sought a commitment from CAGE’s funders that they would no longer make grants to the organisation. CAGE took the Charity Commission to court and the case was dropped when the Commission acknowledged it could not permanently “fetter charities' exercise of discretion”.
However, a Commission compliance case into an earlier complaint about CAGE’s advocacy, published in 2016, criticised the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust's decision to fund some of the group’s work.
Editor's note - 18 February
The final paragraph of this article originally incorrectly referred to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. This has been changed to the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, which is an entirely separate organisation.
The section about CAGE's previous engagement with the Charity Commission has been expanded to better explain the background.