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Don’t call political campaigners domestic extremists


open letter, National Police Chiefs Council, campaigners, domestic extremists, NetPol, Prevent, To treat environmental protestors as terrorists under Prevent is an abuse of power and a misuse of the strategy.

More than 600 people have signed an open letter to senior police officers calling for an end to political campaigning being categorised as “domestic extremism”.

At least 45 environmental activists had been referred to the Home Office’s anti-extremism programme, Prevent, from April 2016-March 2019, according to a recent investigation by The Times.

The Prevent strategy was introduced as a counter terrorism measure. It was never intended, as the government has itself confirmed, to be used against people exercising their democratic and legal right to protest.

While some may disagree with the disruption a protest has caused, or disagree with the tactics employed, or even the cause, the protests that have taken place in the UK recently could never be deemed terrorism.

That is the issue. To treat environmental protestors as terrorists under Prevent is an abuse of power and a misuse of the strategy.

The signatories include the Green Party baroness Jenny Jones, who discovered that there was a file on her on the national domestic extremism database.

It has also been signed by academics, lawyers, councillors, journalists and members of anti-fracking and other campaign groups.

The letter, coordinated by the police monitoring group, Netpol, urges the National Police Chiefs Council to take action before the end of the coronavirus crisis.

The letter said:

To: The National Police Chiefs Council.

Policing in Britain is starting to talk about preparations for a “more volatile and agitated society” after the end of the coronavirus lockdown – and we know it is extremely unlikely that surveillance on campaigners has ended because of the current crisis.

The Times reported only recently that 45 environmental campaigners were referred to the government’s Prevent “counter-extremism” programme between April 2016 and March 2019. It seems likely a large proportion were involved in anti-fracking groups, even though as far back as December 2016, the Home Office insisted opposition to fracking is not an “indicator of vulnerability to radicalisation”.

This is yet another reminder why such government reassurances have proven meaningless as long as the police remain able to subjectively categorise groups as “extremist”, even though this label has no legal definition.

The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated just how dramatically and how quickly political and economic orthodoxies can crumble.

It is now clear society is capable of organising to meet human need rather than simply to generate profit – and not just in a crisis. The government may want everything to return to the way it was before but most likely, as in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, only for the benefit of the few.

However, when we finally emerge from lockdown, it is inevitable campaigners will demand real changes to the way many of society’s problems are prioritised, from the NHS, housing and the climate emergency to military and security spending, social care and workers’ rights, that have been laid bare by the pandemic.

Our fear is that campaigners will likely find themselves, once again, labelled as ‘extremists’ and become the renewed target for intensive surveillance by Britain’s political policing units.

That is why we call on the National Police Chiefs Council to confirm, before the current crisis is over, that it will abandon completely the meaningless categorisation of legitimate political campaigning activities as “domestic extremism”.

Among those who have signed this letter are:

Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol); Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulescoomb, Green Party peer; Dr Eveline Lubbers and Dr Donal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group; Reclaim the Power; CAGE UK; Clare Collier, Advocacy Director, Liberty; Deborah Coles, Director, INQUEST; Emily Apple, activist and journalist; Police Spies Out of Lives; Liz Khan, Women in Black London; Pat Bryden, Women in Black Edinburgh; Beryl Maclachlan, Women in Black Edinburgh; Sue Easterbrook, Women in Black Bradford; Sarah Lasenby, Trident Ploughshares and Women in Black Oxford; Jane Tallents, Trident Ploughshares; Rebecca Johnson, Founding President, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN); Sally Reynolds, Secretary, Movement for the Abolition of War; Dr Gail Bradbrook, co-founder, Extinction Rebellion; Barbara Richardson, Chair, Roseacre Awareness Group (RAG); Susan Gough, Frack Free Kirby Misperton; Ellen Lebethe, Chairman, Lambeth Pensioners Action Group; Lorraine Inglis, Weald Action Group; Vicki Elcoate, Weald Action Group / Horse Hill Protection GroupClaire Stephenson, Frack Free Lancashire; Julie Daniels, Frack Free Lancashire; Adela Pickles, Frack Free Ryedale; Sylvia May MBE, Frack Free Isle Of Wight; Ellie Wyatt, Frack Free Sussex; Anna Somerset, The Gorilla Organization; Angie Zelter, Founder, XR Peace; Fatima Jichi, Tom Wainwright and Owen Greenhall, Barristers, Garden Court Chambers; Lydia Dagostino, Kellys Solicitors; Yvonne Kestler, Leigh Day Solicitors; Ellie Cornish, Hickman Rose Solicitors; Pippa King, Biometrics in Schools; Professor Jane McCarthy, Visiting Professor, University of Reading; Dr Jennifer Hirst, Senior Researcher, University of Oxford; Nina Tailor, Gathering Place Films; Dr Zoë Ellery, Associate Lecturer, The Open University; Caroline Haywood, Frack Free Selby; Jennee Dixon, Frack Free East Yorkshire; Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt, ACT.UP London; Janet Fenton, Words & Actions; Juliet McBride, Nukewatch / XR Peace; Ruth Jenkins, Finance Director, Age UK East London; Cllr Sharon Galliford, Surrey Heath Borough Council; Fiona Parker, Cornerhouse; Frances Lobel, Fuel Poverty Action; Ruth London, Fuel Poverty Action; Cllr Sarah Sharp, Chichester District Council; Ellie Wyatt, Eco Action Families; Laura Swaffield, Chair, The Library Campaign; Rashné Limki, Lecturer, University of Edinburgh Business School; Rosalind Readhead, Independent London Mayoral candidate 2021; Emily Mott, co-founder, Markwells Wood Watch; Alison Williams, Merton Branch Secretary, United Nations Association; Ana Mizm, Drums Of Dissent; and Camilla Saunders, Footloose Community Arts.

To see the full list of signatories, click here.

To add your name, click here.

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