An upcoming review of the Prevent counter-extremism programme is at risk of becoming a “whitewash”

A coalition of 10 human rights and community groups, including Index on Censorship, have warned that an upcoming review of the Prevent counter-extremism programme is at risk of becoming a “whitewash”.  The groups are urging the government to ensure that the review of Prevent is comprehensive and truly independent.

Dear Rt. Hon Brandon Lewis,

We write as a diverse coalition of human rights organisations and community groups concerned by the impact of the Government’s flagship counter-extremism strategy, Prevent, on fundamental rights, community cohesion and the delivery of public services.

We welcome the Government’s commitment to establishing an independent review of Prevent under the auspices of the Counter Terror and Border Security Act 2019. [1] As the deadline for the announcement of arrangements for the Review approaches, we are writing to request that you take appropriate steps to ensure that it is genuinely independent of Government and that its Terms of Reference are sufficiently broad, to ensure the integrity, rigour and credibility of this important process.

Independence and transparency

An incredibly broad range of people and organisations have raised concerns about the impact of the Prevent strategy, including politicians of all parties, health and education workers, members of the security establishment, and people from communities disproportionately affected by counter-terror policy. [2] Given this breadth and depth of concern, it is vital that the Review is meaningfully independent of Government.

We are therefore disappointed that the Reviewer’s appointment appears to be taking place behind closed doors. The position has not been advertised, nor have the selection criteria been published, despite your predecessor stating that the Reviewer’s appointment would comply with the Code on Public Appointments. [3] This is purportedly due to time constraints, [4] yet we note that there was sufficient time to publicly advertise the role of Head of the Prevent Review Team. [5]

None of the undersigned organisations have been consulted on the appointment. However, we understand that select groups have been privately consulted.

In combination, these omissions do not inspire confidence that the Government is seeking to appoint a Reviewer with the expertise and independence required to thoroughly scrutinise the logic, remit and impact of Prevent.

We urge you to follow the principles of the public appointments process as set in the Code on Public Appointments, including by publicly advertising the position and providing information about the selection criteria. Further, it is critical that the Reviewer’s staff are not exclusively civil servants. There must be space within the structure of the Review and associated staff for independent advisers with expertise in human rights and who represent affected communities.

Terms of Reference

We understand that the Government has drafted the Terms of Reference for the Review, which will be published when the Reviewer is announced. [6] Again, we regret that the Government failed to consult widely on this crucial aspect of the Review.

It is imperative that the Terms of Reference afford the Reviewer scope to examine the Strategy’s underlying assumptions and evidence base, its human rights implications, and, ultimately, whether it is fit for purpose.

We wholeheartedly support the Government’s aim to keep the public and society safe from serious violence. In our view, only evidence-based policy – with robustly tested logic, carefully assessed consequences and human rights at its heart – can fulfil that important aim. It is vital that Prevent is tested against these standards.

We hope that the Government shares our view that this process is an opportunity for root-and-branch, impartial assessment of the Prevent Strategy. Ensuring that it is sufficiently broad and independent to achieve this aim can only be to the benefit of the public servants required to implement Prevent, the people that it claims to protect, and, in the long-term, the flourishing of our communities and society.


Yours sincerely,


Martha Spurrier, Director, Liberty

Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust

Joy Hyvarinen, Head of Advocacy, Index on Censorship

Yasmine Ahmed, Executive Director, Rights Watch (UK)

Harun Khan, Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain

Raheel Mohammed, Director, Maslaha

Amrit Singh, Director (Accountability, Liberty & Transparency), Open Society Justice Initiative

Jen Persson, Director, defenddigitalme

Sophie Neuburg, Executive Director, Medact

Omar Begg, Senior Policy Analyst, MEND

Asim Qureshi, Research Director, CAGE


[1] 1 Section 20(8), Counter Terror and Border Security Act 2019

[2] As cited in Rights Watch (UK) and Liberty Briefing on an Independent Review of Prevent, March 2017, paras 4-7, available at

[3] Counter-terrorism: Written question, HL16344, available at

[4] Counter-terrorism: Written question, 277293, available at


[6] Counter-terrorism: Written question, 277293, available at 


House of Lords must ensure Prevent is subject to independent review


The government’s Prevent strategy – which forms one strand of the government’s overarching counter terrorism strategy, CONTEST – seeks to pre-empt acts of terrorism by identifying those at risk of committing such attacks, including by ‘intervening to stop people moving…from extremism into terrorist-related activity’.

Developed without a firm evidence base and rooted in a vague and expansive definition of ‘extremism’, Prevent has been widely criticised for fostering discrimination against people of Muslim faith or background and chilling legitimate expression. [1]

There have been repeated calls to establish an independent review of the Prevent strategy. [2] Three UN independent experts have called on the United Kingdom to launch an independent review of Prevent that incorporates a comprehensive assessment of its impact on human rights. [3]

The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill is currently passing through the House of Lords. Amendments 57 and 57A would require an independent review of Prevent.

We urge members of the House of Lords to support these amendments and take this opportunity to ensure Prevent is at last subject to independent review.


Amnesty International


Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ)

Human Rights Watch

Index on Censorship



Rights Watch (UK)

Adriana Edmeades Jones, Legal and Policy Director of Rights Watch (UK), said:

“In the face of mounting evidence that Prevent is undermining relationships of trust and chilling expression in classrooms and consultation rooms across the country, it is clear that Prevent is simply not fit for purpose.  It is in everyone’s interests – the communities who are targeted, the teachers, doctors and social workers tasked with implementing it, and the Government itself – that Prevent is subject to an independent review.”

Joy Hyvarinen, Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship, said:

“An independent review of the Prevent strategy is overdue and essential if the government wants to tackle the widespread doubts about Prevent. The House of Lords should ensure that the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill includes a review of Prevent”

Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ, said:

“If the categories, criteria and methods of Prevent were applied in Northern Ireland there would be an explosion of resentment in both Loyalist and Republican communities. Why then is it alright to use them in communities in Britain?”

Rachel Logan, Amnesty International UK’s Legal Expert, said:

“Prevent is a highly dubious scheme built on shaky, almost evidence-free, foundations – it’s sorely in need of a proper review. Peers need to ensure that Prevent is rigorously and independently assessed, with all the human rights impacts of the scheme fully investigated.”

Letta Tayler, HRW Senior Researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism, said:

“This amendment to the UK counterterrorism bill provides a good opportunity to ensure long overdue scrutiny of Prevent, a key part of the country’s counterextremism program. Intrusive security powers should have independent oversight.”


[1] See for example Fahid Qurashi, The Prevent strategy and the UK ‘war on terror’: embedding infrastructures of surveillance in Muslim communities; Miqdaad Versi,The latest Prevent figures show why the strategy needs an independent review; Anna Lockley-Scott Preventing what? The flawed assumptions at the heart of the Prevent duty; David Goldberg, Sushrut Jadhav and Tarek Younis, Prevent: what is pre-criminal space; Charlotte Heath-Kelly and Erzsébet Strausz, Counterterrorism in the NHS: Evaluating Prevent Duty Safeguarding by Midlands Healthcare Providers; Teachers back motion calling for Prevent strategy to be scrapped; Royal College of Psychiatrists London, Counter-terrorism and Psychiatry Position Statement PS04/16; Liberty; Rights Watch (UK), Preventing Education? Human Rights and UK Counter-Terrorism Policy in Schools and Open Society Justice Initiative, Eroding Trust: The UK’s Prevent Counter-Extremism Strategy in Health and Education.

[2] See for example 7/7 Survivor and Charity CEO Calls for Urgent Independent Review of Prevent Strategy and  MPs and Lords call for review of Prevent anti-terror strategy in schools,  

[3] See Letter of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism concerning the draft Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill which is currently under consideration of the UK’s House of Commons; Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association on his follow-up mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and End of mission statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related Intolerance at the conclusion of Her mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1542383020058-48aac27c-d559-4″ taxonomies=”27743″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

UN special rapporteur expresses serious concerns on UK’s counter-terrorism bill

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin has expressed serious concerns about the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill that is currently being considered by parliament.

In her submission Professor Ni Aoláin states that the bill risks criminalising a broad range of legitimate behaviour, including reporting by journalists. She highlights the importance of safeguarding freedom of expression and finds that parts of the bill fail to meet the UK’s obligations under international human rights law.

Professor Ni Aoláin questions the need for new terrorism offences that would be introduced by the bill and recommends that the bill should be amended. She also recommends that the UK should launch an independent review of the Prevent strategy.

Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy, said: “Index welcomes Professor Ní Aoláin’s recommendations on the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill. We share her concerns about the bill’s impact on journalism, academic research and freedom of expression and question whether the bill is fit for purpose.”

Index submitted a paper to parliament to ask it to reconsider the bill.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1533291161920-eefc9b7d-f927-5″ taxonomies=”27743″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Counter-terror plans threaten investigative journalism and research


Plans to introduce new counter-terror laws risk stifling legal freedom of expression in the UK and could stop journalists and academics from carrying out much-needed investigations into extremist and other groups with possible prison sentences for investigating stories rising to 15 years.

UK-based free speech campaigners Index on Censorship submitted a paper to the parliamentary committee scrutinising the bill this week, arguing that a number of proposed clauses could discourage journalists from carrying out valuable public interest reports and hamper research.

“The first priority of governments is said to be the security of their peoples. Yet that security is not an end in itself but a means to allow people to live freely. Free expression is vital to living in freedom,” said Index on Censorship magazine editor Rachael Jolley. “We must ensure that government does not — in an attempt to make us more secure — end up making us less free.”

Index has identified a number of potential problems with the bill as proposed. These include:

1. Making it a criminal offence to express an opinion or belief in support of a proscribed organisation and be “reckless” as to whether that would influence others to do so.

As the former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve MP wrote in an edition of Index on Censorship magazine: “If the Irish Taoiseach made a speech about the Easter Rising as a glorious moment in Irish history, and if you have someone who happened to be a member of the Real IRA and it motivated them to go on with some unfinished business, could the Taoiseach be arrested?”  Clearly, this would be absurd. Yet, for a UK citizen, it could be the effect of introducing Clause 1 of this Bill 10 years later. This imposes a test of prophecy not recklessness.

2. Making it an offence to download or stream material likely to be useful to a terrorist if done three times.  

We are concerned that this proposal would have a restrictive effect on researchers, students, academics and journalists, among others, who are researching case studies, making arguments and carrying out interviews. The act of researching information using the internet, or any other method, should not be a criminal act. We propose an amendment to the Bill to provide a clear exemption from the clause’s provisions for those whose purposes in downloading or streaming material are not motivated by terrorist intent.

3. Extension of maximum sentences for collecting and communicating information

Increasing sentences can have a chilling effect on legitimate research. The Terrorism Act 2000, whose maximum sentences this Bill seeks to increase, has already been used to seek to pursue journalists. For example, the Act has been used to prosecute reporters including Newsnight’s Richard Watson for his reporting on Islamists and violent extremism.

“Governments around the world are responding to threats of terrorism and we know that the balance between security and freedom is a hard one to achieve,” said Jolley. “However, we also see how easily laws intended to maintain the conditions of freedom can be used, and abused, to stifle freedom of expression. The current law threatens 10 years in prison; the Bill would extend that to 15. We believe this will have an even greater impact on creating a climate of fear around legitimate research in a free society.”

As the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Max Hill has said: “Weakening human rights laws will not make us safer. Terrorists cannot take away our freedoms – and we must not do so ourselves.”

For more information, please contact Rachael Jolley:

Index on Censorship: 0207 963 7262[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1530270032640-58ac9c27-8548-5″ taxonomies=”26927, 6995, 7324″][/vc_column][/vc_row]