Abed Choudhury of the Islamic Human Rights Commission explains how the framework of a police state is being created in Britain.
For the last 15 years the British government has been engaged in a legislative programme to combat terrorism but which also includes ideological and physical opposition to its overseas interventions. The cumulative effect of these multiple legislations has been the creation of a police state and an environment of hate.
The legislative programme and the environment of hate are intimately intertwined, both feeding the other, to the point where it is now impossible to tell which is the cause and which is the effect i.e. does hatred of the other lead to legislation restricting the freedom of the hated group or does legislation target and marginalise the hated group thereby creating the environment of hate.
The legislation and policies are many, but a short summary of the legislation:
- Introduction of detention without trial under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. (This was later successfully challenged in court which led to the introduction of control orders, something discussed below)
- In 2003, Parliament voted in the Extradition Act which gave the authorities the power to approve extradition requests from designated states for UK residents without the need for the receiving jurisdiction to provide any prima facie evidence. The Act has been widely employed to remove from the UK Muslim dissidents and activists whose presence the government deems undesirable.
- After the right to hold suspects without trial, was struck down in 2004 by the House of Lords as incompatible with Britain’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, Parliament replaced it with the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. it substituted detention without trial with control orders that allowed for restrictions to be imposed on the movements, associations and communications of terrorism suspects. Individuals were not allowed to travel, were placed under curfew, were only allowed to keep a limited amount of money on themselves, access to family and friends, even the internet was limited. In most cases, individuals were not provided the evidence used to put them on a control order, so they were never able to challenge it in a court. Most disturbingly, the restrictions were not limited to the individual but to their whole family, which turned it into a form of collective punishment of the family.
- In the aftermath of the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks on London commuters, Parliament rushed through the Terrorism Act 2006, which widened the definition of terrorism to include expressing support for the use of violence to achieve political objectives. Under its terms it was now illegal to call for the violent overthrow of an oppressive military dictatorship or to support an armed insurgency.
- The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 unsuccessfully attempted to extend the pre-charge detention period from 28 to 42 days. However, the Act introduced more prohibitions including on the publication of material that could compromise the security of British security services and armed forces at home or abroad.
- It was followed in 2010 by the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act which made it possible for the government to designate as terrorist individuals or entities they “reasonably believe” to have been involved in terrorism. The act does not require that the person or entity has been charged, convicted or even arrested for terrorist offences.
- Under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 the government introduced a number of new powers including the power to seize the passports of those suspected of being involved in terrorism and the power to exclude British citizens abroad from entering the UK. It also put the PREVENT strategy on a statutory footing.
- Other actions taken, in the name of preventing terrorism has included stripping people of their citizenship while abroad (and effectively leaving them stateless) and the use of drones against their own citizens abroad.
One of the most troubling policies mentioned above, and a major catalyst in creating the police state and worsening the environment of hate faced by Muslims has been the PREVENT policy. It was originally introduced in 2006, and while it was criticised by many, it was given statutory force in 2015, creating an Orwellian state of surveillance and paranoia.
PREVENT is part of the government’s strategy to prevent extremism. It requires every doctor, nurse, teacher, university lecturer, social worker, and every other public service provider to look for signs of extremism in members of the public. They are essentially spies for the government.
The definition of extremism has been left vague and broad. Extremism is the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values (something that is also defined very vaguely); it can be violent or nonviolent (like disagreeing with government policy) and it can also be calling for the death of members of the British armed forces.
The problem with PREVENT is that it doesn’t actually deal with individual terrorists but effectively presents the whole Muslim community as a potential threat, incubating and protecting terrorists. PREVENT criminalises ideas and speech that the government dislikes. From that starting point, it then goes on to encourage civil society to not only view the Muslim community as a threat but to monitor them and report individuals who they consider to be at “risk” of extremism. This in turn silences dissenting voices from the Muslim community, as people do not want to be labelled and targeted as an extremist. This is where the environment of hate intersects with the police state at its most clearest.
Some examples of those targeted includes:
- A teenager was asked about his views on the Islamic State after distributing BDS leaflets at school. The leaflets were printed by a reputable UK
- A primary school handed out questionnaires to gauge the opinions of its young students. The questions were extremely loaded, and tellingly, the Muslim students were separated from other students when the questionnaires were being done. An indication that it was their opinions the surveyors were most interested in.
- A young boy was referred for mispronouncing the word cucumber as “cooker-bomb”.
There are many more examples reported in the media. The above should suffice to show the ways PREVENT is monitoring and silencing Muslims.
Islamic Human Rights Commission has been at the forefront of highlighting this environment of hate and challenging the UK government over its legislative programme.
IHRC has been arguing that there is no need to constantly create new terrorism laws as existing laws are sufficient, an argument that was recently put forward by the House of Commons Select Committee on Human Rights in its recommendations to the government. We have also been calling for PREVENT policy to be repealed. We are advising people of their rights and ways to challenge and boycott PREVENT. While the government does not look like it will budge anytime soon on PREVENT, our campaign has had some success. Other charities and organisations are now also calling for an end to PREVENT and many politicians have identified PREVENT as a major issue that needs dealt with. We hope, by continuing the push against PREVENT we will be able to have it repealed completely.