Is Prevent program fit for purpose?

Lord Carlile
Updated 08 December 2019

Is Prevent program fit for purpose?

  • UK counter-radicalization initiative faces criticism ahead of first review

LONDON: On Nov. 26, three days before the London Bridge terrorist attack, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott told supporters that, if elected, a Labour government would conduct a review of the Prevent program, one of Britain’s most controversial counter-extremism initiatives.

Prevent was created in 2003 to support Britons vulnerable to radicalization, and to stop them from supporting terrorism.

In 2015, the government introduced a statutory duty requiring prisons workers, teachers and doctors to report worries about people considered at risk of turning to radicalism and terror.

Critics say the duty has a chilling effect on free speech and turns public sector workers into informers on their colleagues, creating an atmosphere of distrust.

But some Britons working under the Prevent duty say it has rarely been part of their professional lives.

Dr. Paul Stott, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank, said in his 11 years of teaching about security and terrorism in five British universities, he never received any communication about Prevent from the university hierarchy. 

“This is a problem,” he told Arab News: “The lack of proper communication about Prevent creates a vacuum of discussion, which has been exploited by activists opposed to the program.”

He said the Labour Party had been successfully lobbied by British Islamic groups to whom Prevent is a “die in a ditch” issue. 

“Organizations such as CAGE and the Muslim Council of Britain contest Prevent as their central activity,” he added.

“It’s painted by these groups as an anti-Muslim program, which is remarkable considering the diversity of the British Muslim population, many of whom are supporters of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy.”

Abbott criticized the Home Office’s decision in August to appoint Lord Carlile to head the government’s Prevent review “because he has spoken in favor of it.” 

But Stott said anyone the government appointed would receive a barrage of criticism as Labour and anti-Prevent NGOs would aim to hit the review before it had started.

He said: “Lord Carlile has been involved in counter-radicalization for decades, and was central to the prosecution of far-right figure Nick Griffin in the 1990s.”

When asked how the UK could improve its counter-terror strategy in light of the London Bridge attack and heightened concern about returning Daesh fighters, Stott referred to Australia’s “Declared area offense” law, which criminalizes entering or remaining in a declared area of a foreign country. 

Syria’s Raqqa province and the Iraqi city of Mosul have both recently been subject to this regulation.

Yasmine Ahmed, director of Rights Watch (UK), said a review of Prevent needs to be the first step in developing a stronger counter-terrorism strategy.

“This has to be a job for the government using a thorough, methodological and evidence-based approach,” she told Arab News. 

“It’s not up to think tanks and NGOs to promote their own preferred counter-terrorism policies.”

Ahmed said there is no evidence to support the theoretical underpinning of Prevent. 

“The broad indicators that the government uses to identify extremism lack an evidential basis, and coupled with the overly vague and broad definition of extremism, gives rise to a huge number of misguided referrals and results in pervasive human rights and societal harms,” she added.

“Prevent is being used as a soft surveillance tool against persons who’ve committed no crimes, the vast majority of whom don’t even end up being onward referred to the Channel program,” she said. Channel is Prevent’s de-radicalization program, led by the police and Muslims who oppose anti-Western rhetoric. 

“The government is collecting information about people, including children, on a secret Prevent database, and people have no way of knowing that they’re on this database and thereby challenging it,” she added.

“Lord Carlile completely lacks independence from the policy of Prevent, as well as the ongoing debate about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the policy.” 

His appointment is currently the subject of a legal challenge from Rights Watch (UK), which described the proposed review as a “whitewash.” 

Lord  Carlile has dismissed concerns about Prevent as arguments made to “liberate the activities of some who are opposed to the very essence of our democratic way of life.”  This, Rights Watch (UK) says, “fundamentally undermines any trust and faith in the process and outcome.”

Ahmed concluded: “It’s critical that this review is genuinely independent; our lives and liberty are at stake.”

Britain’s security policy is fraught with division. Competing think tanks, NGOs and politicians all have their own policy preferences and ideological positions. But after a decade of heightened terrorist-related concerns, and with many British radicals having been referred to the Prevent program but unsuccessfully prevented from carrying out attacks, many agree that now is the time to review the initiative.


China’s president vows ‘new era’ of Myanmar ties

Updated 18 January 2020

China’s president vows ‘new era’ of Myanmar ties

  • Xi is expected to sign a series of deals

NAYPYIDAW: Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to usher in a “new era” of ties with Myanmar after a red carpet welcome Friday on a state visit aimed at buttressing the embattled government of Aung San Suu Kyi and driving through multibillion-dollar infrastructure deals.

Myanmar fighter jets escorted Xi’s plane as it touched down in Naypyidaw where children presented him with flowers, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency, as he was whisked off to a greeting party.

In addition to being its largest investor, China has become an indispensable ally for Myanmar as it reels from Western isolation over the Rohingya crisis.

But widespread mistrust of Beijing’s ambitions and its influence over armed insurgencies in areas bordering the two countries threaten to undermine the bond.

Xi told Myanmar leaders he was “convinced that the concerted efforts of our two sides will make this visit a success and take the bilateral ties to a new level and into a new era,” Xinhua reported.

During the trip he is expected to sign a series of mammoth infrastructure deals as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The centerpiece of the so-called China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) is a $1.3 billion deep-sea port at Kyaukphyu in central Rakhine state, giving Beijing a gateway to the Indian Ocean.

A high-speed rail link is also on the cards to connect the port and nearby planned industrial zone with the countries’ shared border.

Bilateral trade was worth $16.8 billion last year and Beijing holds the biggest share — around $4 billion or 40 percent — of Myanmar’s foreign debt.

Billions of cubic meters of gas and millions of barrels of oil from offshore rigs are pumped each year across the country into China.

“The next one, two, three decades will be defined by Myanmar’s relationship with China,” said Yangon-based analyst Richard Horsey.

Xi will sit down with Suu Kyi and army chief Min Aung Hlaing in separate meetings on Saturday.

Ahead of the visit Suu Kyi made a rare appearance in Kachin state on the border with China.

Kachin is the site of a planned Chinese-backed $3.6 billion, 6,000 megawatt dam that was mothballed in 2011 in the face of vociferous criticism across the country.

This is thought to have been a personal slight to Xi, who signed off on the Myitsone dam with Myanmar’s then-military junta as vice president in 2009.

Activists are expected to protest in the commercial hub Yangon on Saturday against any reinstatement of the project.

Economic interests aside, Myanmar’s relationship with the superpower has other benefits.

In an op-ed in Myanmar’s state-run media this week, Xi said China supports Myanmar in “safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests and national dignity.”

China shields Myanmar at the United Nations, where pressure is mounting for accountability over the treatment of Rohingya Muslims.

Suu Kyi personally defended her nation against accusations of genocide at the UN’s top court last month after a 2017 military crackdown forced 740,000 Rohingya over the border into Bangladesh.

The alleged atrocities took place in Rakhine, which has since descended into a civil war between the military and an ethnic Rakhine rebel group.

Myanmar has nonetheless declared the state open for business.

While many Western investors are steering clear, China — competing against other regional giants — has few such qualms.

“Xi’s visit will amplify concerns the West is losing Myanmar to China,” said Horsey.

Domestically, Suu Kyi needs economic wins as well as diplomatic support as she heads toward elections due at the end of this year.

Xi’s visit has triggered mixed reactions.

A number of key militant groups — known to be under the shadowy influence of Beijing — welcomed the summit.

But a plethora of activists spoke out against China’s projects and Amnesty International weighed in, decrying the “absolute lack of transparency.”

Rakhine locals, meanwhile, fear they will again be overlooked after previous Beijing-backed infrastructure projects left many without land or livelihoods.

“They didn’t bring any benefits for us, not even any jobs,” Moe Moe Aye from Kyaukphyu SEZ Watch Group said.