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Prevent scheme ‘fosters fear and censorship at universities’

Just Yorkshire’s report, citing interviews with Muslim students and academics, urges closure of anti-radicalisation programme

The government’s anti-radicalisation scheme, Prevent, is instilling “fear, suspicion and censorship” on university campuses, an advocacy group has warned.

In a report based on interviews with 36 Muslim students, academics and professionals, Just Yorkshire said the scheme had fostered a “policing culture” in higher education and argued that it should be closed down immediately.

It concludes: “A wide spectrum of our respondents articulated concerns in relation to surveillance, censorship and the resultant isolation felt by many.”

Prevent, a voluntary programme, aims to divert people from terrorism before they offend. Public bodies such as schools and universities have a duty to report those they suspect are at risk of being radicalised.

Just Yorkshire described the scheme, which police and ministers are considering making compulsory, as being “built upon a foundation of Islamophobia and racism” and said it was ineffective and counterproductive.

The report said there was “an abundant body of evidence” that Prevent officers had disrupted or closed down events about Islamophobia or terrorism that had been organised by academics and campaigners.

A National Union of Students activist told researchers that students felt “spied upon” when a Prevent officer demanded a list of names associated with the university’s Islamic society.

Dr Waqas Tufail, the report’s co-author and a senior lecturer in social sciences at Leeds Beckett University, said fellow academics – both Muslim and non-Muslim – were resorting to self-censorship when discussing topics around Islam.

Tufail said he knew of a case where a criminology lecturer ran her course’s reading list past the police “just in case there was anything too critical”. He said: “I was gobsmacked by that. If we get into this habit of the police authorising what we teach then we’re living in dangerous times.”

Tufail said young Muslims saw Prevent as compulsory. Making participation in the programme mandatory would “certainly damage relations between the state, the police, local authorities and Muslim communities”, he said.

Max Hill QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism laws, said earlier this month he had met Muslim communities across England in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park and that the vast majority of people expressed distrust and resentment towards Prevent. He stopped short of calling for the programme to be revoked.

The Home Office said Just Yorkshire’s report was not independent and questioned how its 36 interviewees were chosen.

The security minister, Ben Wallace, said:“It is no wonder people are concerned about Prevent when reports such as this peddle falsehoods and create myths. Anonymous and misleading quotes riddle this report. Are we really to be expected to stop safeguarding vulnerable people from being exploited because of this flawed report?

“At its heart Prevent is about safeguarding. In the age of the internet and social media people of all backgrounds and religions are vulnerable to being exploited. The Prevent duty sits alongside the duties to protect people from sexual, bullying or criminal manipulation.

“As a parent if my children were being targeted by bullies or terrorists or paedophiles at school I would expect that such occurrences were reported and dealt with. But this report seems to suggest such reporting be stopped when it relates to exploitation by terrorists. We all have a stake in delivering safeguarding in society and I am pleased we are seeing really successful results.”

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