Authoritarian State

A dossier on the how Britain’s often hastily conceived anti-terrorism/counter-terrorism laws and security regimes percolate through society as a whole . . .  a climate of suspicion permeates, with an impact on individual and collective behaviour. Civil society needs to be alert to this aggrandisement of power.

The Nigel Farage and Coutts bank account closure

Peter Oborne writing in Middle East Eye, ” British Muslims were the first to suffer from bank account closures, but nobody protested. When the same thing happens to Nigel Farage, it’s close to a national scandal [. . .]

I can’t help comparing the alacrity with which the government has gone into battle on behalf of Farage to its total indifference to the fate of British Muslims and others over many years. This shows two things: first and foremost, the structural Islamophobia which has long poisoned British media and politics. When Muslims have their bank accounts closed, nobody cares. When the same thing allegedly happens to Nigel Farage it’s close to a national scandal. But there’s a deeper point. Ever since Tony Blair joined George Bush’s so-called “war on terror”, British Muslims have been the testing ground for sinister authoritarianism. As I demonstrated in my book, The Fate of Abraham, politically engaged Muslims were the first to suffer from cancel culture, having been systematically excluded from British life for many years.”. Click here.

The Shawcross Report, 2023

I. Reactions from Muslim Civil Society

The Muslim Council of Britain: “Muslim groups that are potentially named will have little recourse, no right of reply or adequate means of challenging baseless and/or inaccurate accusations, except for in a court of law. Any and all associated individuals, irrespective of the nature of their association to named organisations, will have their lives ruined, facing insurmountable challenges in every facet of their existence. What we see in the so-called independent review is a re-hashing of divisive talking points determined at stigmatising Muslims and Muslim civil society . . .” click here.

The Muslim Association of Britain: The so-called independent review seeks to expand state powers through the securitisation of Muslims, reaffirming what our communities have been saying since the inception of Prevent. It cannot and does not keep us safe but rather seeks to curtail the rights of citizens who happen to challenge the government’s policies. Twitter @MABonline1

2. Reactions from CT experts

Vikram Dodd and Rajeev Syal’s interview with Neil Basu, in the Guardian, 8 February 2023: “. . .Basu, a former Metropolitan police assistant commissioner and senior national coordinator for terrorism, said claims of overly focusing on rightwing terrorism, allegedly at the expense of Islamist terrorism, were wrong. “That is in my view driven by a rightwing viewpoint that XRWT [extreme rightwing terrorism] is either unimportant or doesn’t really exist. The head of MI5 says it’s 20% of the work they do, so I would listen to him,” he said.” click here

3. Think Tanks, public intellectuals and media comment

Kenan Malik, Observer columnist, in the Guardian, 12 February 2023, “. . . the third fundamental problem with Prevent: the creation of an intrusive system not just of surveillance but of censorship too. In the parliamentary debate over the Shawcross review, the home secretary, Suella Braverman, insisted it was ‘vital’ to ‘ensure that there is no platform for these campaigns [against Prevent] within universities and that misrepresentations of Prevent are deterred’. The government, in other words, wants to censor opponents of Prevent, tarring them as potential terrorists. And this from an administration that has threatened to sanction universities and student unions that “no-platform” speakers. Prevent guidelines have long constrained academic freedom. . . click here.

Sunder Katwala, director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society, in the Guardian, 8 February 2023, “. . .  Shawcross offers footnotes naming and shaming Muslims he would like to see excommunicated from any engagement with Prevent. But this would exacerbate a more significant problem – that the government already has a widespread non-engagement policy of ever-shrinking circles of civic Muslim engagement, that is so much narrower than with any other major faith group. . . . But a central question for prevention is what actually works. This review, often rather journalistic in tone, provides disappointingly little evidence about that. Shawcross reports that he visited six of the 79 Prevent-funded civil society organisations. He reviews 15 civic projects, which strengthens his feeling that too few are directly challenging Islamism. He writes that the behavioural insights team(also known as the “nudge unit”) had referenced an overarching review of the impacts of certain projects, but reports that nobody at the Home Office can find it for him. The fragmentary evidence base long predates the Shawcross review, but he makes only the sketchiest contribution to filling the void. Click here.

Mark Townsend, writing in the Guardian, 12 February 2023, “. . . Last week his controversial conclusion that the programme had concentrated too much on the far right and not enough on Islamist extremism was met with widespread condemnation. Now it has come to light that Shawcross attended only six of the review panels charged with examining the more extreme cases identified by Prevent. This more intensive support, known as Channel, is needed for the small proportion of individuals seen as being at greatest risk. Between April 2021 and March 2022, almost 1,500 assessments for Channel took place. Critics say Shawcross’s attendance of such a small number of these raises fresh questions over how thorough the research was that led to his conclusions. Layla Aitlhadj, the director and case study lead at Prevent Watch, said her organisation had examined hundreds of referrals for its report last year into the counter-terrorism programme. ‘We analysed 600 cases of people referred to the programme. Shawcross based his entire report on just six Channel cases’.” click here.

For the Shawcross Report, click here.

Baroness Kennedy in the Lords, 14th January 2015: … We  should be deeply aware of the risks associated with erosions of civil liberties because once we create paradigm shifts inside the law, the reality is that they are very hard to reverse. We have seen this over laws that were introduced at the time of the Irish troubles in the 1970s when I started doing work in terrorism cases. You actually find that the changes that are introduced inevitably leach into the system as a whole.

George Greenwood in The Times, 13 April 2020: “At least 45 activists were referred to Prevent over environmental extremism between April 2016 and March last year, a freedom of information request from The Times shows.” click here – subscription required for access.

Thread by “rebelcinder, 5 March 2020 : OK, I’ve got a little story about how I and my one-year-old son became targets of efforts to disrupt and counter “extremism” in the UK. This involves @XRebellionUK, the “Prevent” program, the Thames Valley Police, and the Wolfson College Day Nursery of the @UniofOxford. Ready? click here.

Jamie Grierson in the Guardian, 21 February 2020: ‘Environmental and animal rights activists have been referred to the government’s controversial anti-radicalisation programme, the Home Office has admitted.’ click here.

Eleanor Busby in the Independent, 14 February 2020, ‘. . .The University of Reading faced criticism for flagging an essay by a prominent left-wing academic, which examines the ethics of socialist revolution, as “sensitive” under the Prevent duty.

Matt Drake and Vincent Wood in the Independent, 25 January 2020, ‘A cycling advocacy group has appeared alongside Nazi iconography and proscribed groups in a compilation of signs and symbols put together by counter-terror policing.’ click here.

Vikram Dodd and Jamie Grierson in the Guardian, 10 January 2020, ‘Counter-terrorism police placed the non-violent group Extinction Rebellion (XR) on a list of extremist ideologies that should be reported to the authorities running the Prevent programme, which aims to catch those at risk of committing atrocities, the Guardian has learned. The climate emergency campaign group was included in a 12-page guide produced by counter-terrorism police in the south-east titled Safeguarding young people and adults from ideological extremism, which is marked as “official”.’ click here []

Damien Gayle and Diane Taylor in the Guardian, 10 December 2018, ‘Two of the activists convicted of terrorism offences for blocking the takeoff of an immigration removal charter flight at Stansted airport have spoken of their shock at the verdicts, describing the outcome as an “unprecedented crackdown on the right to protest”.’ click here []

Lancaster Guardian,  2 October 2018, ‘Campaign group End Deportations say that this is the first time the terror-related offence, passed in 1990 in response to the Lockerbie bombing, has been used against people taking non-violent direct action, and if found guilty the defendants could face many years in prison.’ click here

Anushka Asthana in the Guardian, 25 December 2016, ‘Councils were given permission to carry out more than 55,000 days of covert surveillance over five years, including spying on people walking dogs, feeding pigeons and fly-tipping, the Guardian can reveal.  A mass freedom of information request has found 186 local authorities – two-thirds of the 283 that responded – used the government’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to gather evidence via secret listening devices, cameras and private detectives.  click here []

Mark Townsend and Ian Cobain in the Guardian, 10 December 2016, ‘. . . City of York council included anti-fracking activists in its Prevent programme, the controversial centrepiece of the government’s strategy to tackle extremism and thwart terrorism. In response, the Home Office on Saturday issued a statement saying “support for anti-fracking is not an indicator of vulnerability” to extremism. Click here []

Report in 22 November 2016, ‘An extraordinary decision by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has equated anti-fracking protesters with extremism and terrorism. And that decision should worry us all. It shows the government’s attitude towards campaigners, and the measures they will take to stop them . . . Fracking protesters have been included in Prevent training about extremism, and campaigners questioned under anti-terrorism legislation at airports.’ Click here []

Rob Evans and Vikram Dodd in the Guardian, 28th April 2016, ‘A  secretive police unit tasked with spying on alleged extremists intent on committing serious crimes has been monitoring leading members of the Green party, the Guardian has learned. Newly released documents show that the intelligence unit has been tracking the political activities of the MP Caroline Lucas and Sian Berry, the party’s candidate for London mayor.’ click here [

Glen Greewald in, 28th April 2016, ‘A newly published study from Oxford’s Jon Penney provides empirical evidence for a key argument long made by privacy advocates: that the mere existence of a surveillance state breeds fear and conformity and stifles free expression. Click here []

Haroon Siddique in the Guardian, 3rd March 2016, ‘A British man was removed from a plane by armed police at Luton airport after a fellow passenger read a message on his mobile phone about “prayer” and reported him as a security threat . . .The Nigerian-born Christian believes the passenger next to him assumed he was a Muslim and jumped to the conclusion that he may be a terrorist.’ click here []

Owen Bowcott in the Guardian, 16th January 2016, ‘A key clause in the Terrorism Act 2000 is incompatible with the European convention on human rights, the master of the rolls, John Dyson, has said as part of a court of appeal judgment. The decision came in the case of David Miranda, who was detained at Heathrow airport in 2013 for carrying files related to information obtained by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden.  click here []

Paul Peachey in the Independent, 3rd January 2016, ‘Britain’s most scandal-hit police force faces a slew of legal claims after being accused of using controversial anti-terrorism powers to snoop on officers blowing the whistle on racism. Cleveland constabulary faces claims that it secretly obtained details from confidential emails between Asian officers and their representatives and solicitors to defend against employment cases brought against the force.  click here []

Jon Stone in the Independent, 6th November 2015, ‘British volunteers on a humanitarian aid run to refugees in Calais were detained by police under legislation meant to be used against suspected terrorists, an aid group has told the Independent. Two people working with the London2Calais group said they were stopped and held for three hours under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 while returning to the UK at Calais. One of the pair, who were travelling in the same vehicle, said Kent Police counter-terror officers carried out the detention on the Calais side of the channel.’ click here.  []

Ian Burrell in the Independent, 29th October 2015, ‘… Police have used powers under the Terrorism Act to seize the laptop of a young Newsnight journalist in a case that has shocked BBC colleagues and alarmed freedom of speech campaigners, The Independent can disclose. Officers obtained an order from a judge that was served on the BBC and Secunder Kermani, who joined the flagship BBC2 news show early last year and has produced a series of reports on British-born jihadis.The development has caused alarm among BBC journalists.’’ click here. []

Rev. Jones & other churchmen, letter to the editor, Daily Telegraph, 7th October 2015, ‘… Many people will fall foul of EDOs and, as the former head of MI5 has said, “harmless evangelicals” could be among them. . . . Today Christians can be labelled “extremists” by those who disagree with Christianity. For some such people, EDOs will be a gift. For the Church, they will be a disaster. Philip Johnston in the Daily Telegraph, 28th September 2015, “True, the proposed definition of extremist views is intended to stop radical Islamist preachers influencing a new generation of potential terrorists, but it [Counter-Terrorism & Security Bill]  is so widely drawn that it will inevitably ensnare the wrong people.‘ click here []

Shaheed Fatima writes in, 14 September 2015 ‘‘On August 28, 2015 the British Library publicly stated that it would not acquire or give access to the digital archive of materials collected by the Taliban Sources Project (TSP). This decision, coming from “one of the world’s greatest research libraries” and “a place of knowledge and inspiration, encouragement and engagement” has been criticized by academics/researchers as “madness” and “completely, completely ridiculous.” But, from a legal perspective, the British Library’s self-censorship is a predictable consequence of the UK’s broad terrorism laws . . .’. click here []

Adi Bloom in the Times Educational Supplement, 4th September 2015: Police have told teachers that they should consider envir­onmental activists and anti-fracking protesters as potential extremists under the government’s Prevent counter-terrorism strategy, TES has learned.More than 100 teachers from several schools were given the advice during a Prevent training session in West Yorkshire, where they were also warned by a police officer about extreme anti-capitalist groups.One teacher said the officer went on to refer to the behaviour of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas – who was arrested for her part in blocking a road at an anti-fracking demonstration in 2013 – as an example of extremism. click here. []

Vikram Dodd in the Guardian 5 December  2014: ‘ The battle against extremism could lead to a “drift towards a police state” in which officers are turned into “thought police”, one of Britain’s most senior chief constables has warned.Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester, said police were being left to decide what is acceptable free speech as the efforts against radicalisation and a severe threat of terrorist attack intensify…The Conservative-led coalition’s counter-terrorism policy, Contest, was unveiled in 2011 and tried to link non-violent extremist idea to terrorist violence’.  click here.

Carly Nyst in the Telegraph 6 November 2014: “Destroying online freedom in the name of counter-terrorism will make the world a more dangerous place. Just as the tradeoff for a truly democratic society is that dissent, insecurity and even hatred cannot be stamped out before they materialise, so too a truly open, democratised internet cannot be sanitised against terror without undermining the very qualities that make it so important to our lives. This is exactly what mass surveillance of the internet is aimed at, and as a result it debases the rights to privacy and free expression that we need for flourishing democracies.”  Click here.  22 October 2014 claims, “BBC Uses Anti-Terror Spy Powers to Track Down People Who Haven’t Paid Their License Fee“. Click here []

Lisa O’Carroll in the Guardian, 6th October 2014, ‘The Sun has made an official complaint about the Metropolitan police’s use of anti-terror laws to snoop on its political editor’s phone calls. It has written to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to seek a public review of the Met’s use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to obtain Tom Newton Dunn’s phone records. The Met ordered Vodafone to hand them over as part of its investigation into the Plebgate saga centring on former Tory whip Andrew Mitchell’s altercation with police at Downing Street’. Click here []

Alan Travis in The Guardian, 22 July 2014, ‘The current British definition of terrorism is so broadly drawn that it could even catch political journalists and bloggers who publish material that the authorities consider dangerous to public safety, said the official counter-terrorism watchdog [David Anderson QC]… The definition was so broad it would even catch a campaigner who voiced religious objections to a vaccination campaign on the grounds that they were a danger to public health. Click here []

Channel 4, 11 July 2014, ‘[…] When travelling from Kings Cross on 14 October 2010 for work, he [Taher Gulamhussein] was asked to provide a valid train ticket after being questioned by ticket inspectors. When Mr Gulamhussein disputed the suggestion that his ticket was not valid – Mr Gulamhussein was later proven to be correct – his attempts to make a complaint and take a picture of the incident ended in him being detained and handcuffed by police officers. Mr Gulamhusein was immediately released without charge on arrival at the station. However, a professional standards report found the legal volunteer was detained on suspicion of terrorist offences without sufficient grounds and that officers acted “incorrectly and unlawfully”. click here []

Rajeev Sayal reports in the Guardian 24 March 2014: “MPs have criticised Britain’s leading tax official after HM Revenue & Customs used powers meant to catch terrorists to hunt down an employee who exposed a secret multimillion-pound ‘sweetheart’ deal with Goldman Sachs’. Click here []

From the NUJ website, 6 November 2013, The National Union of Journalists has joined a coalition of media and free speech organisations in a High Court challenge to the use of counter-terrorism powers to detain David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist reporting on the mass surveillance programmes by the United States National Security Agency, at Heathrow airport in August. At the time of the detention the union said: “The treatment meted out to David Miranda is wholly unacceptable and it is time the use, or rather misuse, of terrorism legislation as a way of targeting individuals was properly and independently reviewed….”. click here []

Paul Lewis in the Guardian, 19 March 2012, ‘An Italian student [Simona Bonomo] has won an out-of-court settlement with police after she was stopped under anti-terrorist legislation while filming buildings in London, and later arrested, held in a cell for five hours and then fined…”I am pleased with the settlement but money alone does not erase what happened and I am left with consternation that the systems in place to protect citizens from police brutality do not work,” Bonomo said. Click here []

Paul Lewis in the Guardian, 30 September 2010, ‘A secret police operation to place thousands of Muslims living in Birmingham under permanent surveillance was implemented with virtually no consultation, oversight or regard for the law, a report found today. Project Champion was abandoned in June after an investigation by the Guardian revealed police had misled residents into believing that hundreds of counter-terrorism cameras installed in streets around Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath were to be used to combat vehicle crime and antisocial behaviour. In fact, the £3m project was being run from the West Midlands police counter-terrorism unit with the consent of security officials at the Home Office and MI5.’ Click here []

Cahal Milo in the Independent, 20th July 2010, ‘“Education secretary Michael Gove faced heavy criticism yesterday by both Labour and a senior Tory MP for using Parliamentary procedures normally reserved for emergency counter-terror laws to rush through legislation to create more academy schools….” Click here []

Alan Travis in the Guardian, 10th June 2010, “Senior police officers are fighting hard to retain the use of section 44 stop and search powers after the Home Office admitted 14 forces had unlawfully used them in 40 operations dating back to 2001…. a series of blunders meant the operations under the Terrorism Act 2000 had not been legally authorised, either because they exceeded the maximum legal 28-day limit in duration or had not been properly signed off by ministers within 48 hours….The 14 forces are trying to contact tens of thousands who were unlawfully searched on the streets in operations going back to 2001, when the powers were introduced. Click here []

Tom Whitehead in the Daily Telegraph, 1st June 2010, “A couple who kept their curtains closed were also flagged up to the Channel Project, an anti-terror warning programme designed to stop vulnerable people becoming radicalised…[the] teenage schoolboy was one of 53 people reported in East Lancashire alone after regularly drawing bombs and guns. …Inspector Paul Goodall, the Prevent and Channel coordinator for East Lancashire, said: ‘We are looking at people who would not normally come on to our radar’.” Click here

David Jarvis in the Express, 7th March 2010, ‘“A Sunday Express investigation asked 300 councils if they had used the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to spy on staff and 33 answered ‘yes’. Caroline Spelman, Shadow Local Government Secretary, said:’Under Labour’s surveillance state, laws passed in the name of fighting terror have been misused….’ The list includes Gedling Council in Nottinghamshire which used surveillance to catch people stealing lights from a Christmas tree. Burnley Council in Lancashire watched a council gym to see if staff were using the showers in work time, Medway Council in Kent used CCTV to keep tabs on parking attendants thought to be knocking off early and Tamworth Council in Staffordshire watched a market official suspected of fiddling time sheets. Lancaster City Council staff had emails examined in an inquiry into working practices and Hackney Council in London spied on staff thought to be misusing disabled parking badges.” Click here []

Paul Lewis in the Guardian, 22nd Feb 2010, “Police questioned an amateur photographer under anti-terrorist legislation and later arrested him, claiming pictures he was taking in a Lancashire town were ‘suspicious’ and constituted ‘antisocial behaviour’. Footage recorded on a video camera by Bob Patefield, a former paramedic, shows how police approached him and a fellow photography enthusiast in Accrington town centre. They were told they were being questioned under the Terrorism Act. …He turned on his video camera the moment he was approached by a police community support officer (PCSO). In the footage, she said: ‘Because of the Terrorism Act and everything in the country, we need to get everyone’s details who is taking pictures of the town’.” Click here []

Robert Booth in the Guardian, 8th December 2009, “One of the country’s leading architectural photographers was apprehended by City of London police under terrorism laws today while photographing the 300-year old spire of Sir Christopher Wren’s Christ Church for a personal project. Grant Smith, who has 25 years experience documenting buildings by Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, was stopped by a squad of seven officers who pulled up in three cars and a riot van and searched his belongings under section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which allows police to stop and search anyone without need for suspicion in a designated area. Click here []

The Guardian reports 16th April 2009, “On the eve of the G20 summit in London five young people were arrested in the Plymouth area under the Terrorism Act. Their arrest took place after one young man was caught spraying anti-capitalist graffiti, a tiny act of dissent which resulted in police raids on several premises.” Click here []

Rob Evans and Paul Lewis in the Guardian, 28th Feb 2009, “Controversial surveillance powers employed to fight terrorism and combat crime have been misused by civil servants in undercover ‘spying’ operations that breach official guidelines, the Guardian has learned….organisations which have used surveillance powers include Ofsted, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Driving Standards Agency and Food Standards Agency, the Financial Services Authority, the BBC (for TV licensing detection) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.” Click here []

John Vidal and Helen Pidd in the Guardian, 11 August 2007, “Armed police will use anti-terrorism powers to “deal robustly” with climate change protesters at Heathrow next week, as confrontations threaten to bring major delays to the already overstretched airport.” Click here []

Walter Wolfgang, September 2005

Andrew Sparrow in the Daily Telegraph, “The Foreign Secretary was telling the conference that Britain was in Iraq “for one reason only” – to help the elected Iraqi government – when Walter Wolfgang shouted: “That’s a lie and you know it.” Mr Wolfgang, a refugee from Nazi Germany and a Labour Party member since 1948, was immediately surrounded by security staff in full view of the television cameras and ejected from the hall in Brighton as officials revoked his pass. When he tried to re-enter the secure zone, he was stopped by a police officer citing the Terrorism Act.” Click here [,-82,-who-dared-called-Straw-a-liar-is-held-under-terrorist-law.html]

The BBC reports, 16 July 2003 “A group of peace protesters has launched legal proceedings against Gloucestershire police, claiming they used anti-terrorism laws to prevent demonstrations against the war in Iraq. The complaints centre on RAF Fairford, where American B-52 bombers were based during the conflict.” Click here]