UK government threatened with legal action after Prevent leaks accuse activists of 'supporting Islamic extremism'

UK government threatened with legal action after Prevent leaks accuse activists of 'supporting Islamic extremism'
The UK Home Office may face defamation action over a review into the counter-terrorism strategy Prevent as groups dismiss leaked allegations that they stoked Islamic extremism.
2 min read
30 January, 2023
The Home Office have been accused of 'interfering significantly' in the Shawcross review [source: Getty]

An organisation that monitors the UK's controversial Prevent counter-terrorism strategy has threatened to take legal action against the Home Office ahead of a published review of the programme. 

Prevent Watch, which describes itself as a community-led initiative supporting people impacted by the programme, has sent a formal letter to the Home Office warning of defamation action based on what it said are unfounded allegations of stoking extremism. 

Leaked reports ahead of the long-awaited William Shawcross review indicated that organisations, like Prevent Watch, are listed as being supportive of Islamic extremism because they oppose the programme. Prevent Watch has dismissed the claims as libellous.

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Dr Layla Aitlhadj, director of Prevent Watch, said in the legal letter: "We understand it is likely that we have been named as part of this ‘list’".

"Our important civil society work, based on hundreds of cases adversely and unfairly targeted by Prevent, will not be silenced in this way," she added. 

"Our pre-action letter to the Home Office makes it clear they have a responsibility to act. They should not only remove any defamatory statements in the Shawcross report, but they must ensure the contents are within the stated purpose of the independent review, and publish their report without further delay, to avoid liability and allow for public scrutiny," said Dr Aithadj, according to The Guardian

Shawcross was appointed in January 2021 to lead a review of the Prevent programme, which has been accused by human rights and Muslim groups of disproportionately targeting Muslim communities. 

The review was originally slated to be presented by the end of 2021, but it has still not been published in full. 

Leaks of the draft report have been obtained by media outlets, and suggest Shawcross will call for a renewed focus within Prevent on Islamist extremism. 

Prevent Watch is one of more than 500 organisations and individuals that have chosen to boycott the Shawcross review. 

A UK government spokesperson has said: "The government is currently reviewing the recommendations of the independent review and will publish the report and our response in due course. 

"It is only right that the government takes the time to prepare and deliver a considered response."