by Vikram Dodd (Guardian’s Police and crime correspondent)
Extinction Rebellion is threatening legal action against counter-terrorism police for what it said was the illegal listing of the group an extremist ideology in a guide designed to help stop terrorist violence.
The Guardian revealed on Friday that counter-terrorism police placed the non-violent protest group on a list of extremist ideologies that should be reported to the authorities running the Prevent anti-radicalisation programme. Police now say that was an error.
On Saturday Amnesty International condemned police as criticism grew and questions remained about how Extinction Rebellion (XR) came to be included in the guide alongside neo-Nazis and terrorist supporters.
The climate emergency campaign group was included in a 12-page document produced by Counter Terrorism Policing South East (CTPSE) titled “Safeguarding young people and adults from ideological extremism”.
XR has instructed lawyers after the revelations.
Jules Carey, who acted for XR when it last year successfully struck down police protest bans in the courts, told the Guardian that the counter-terrorism police guidance was unlawful. “It is extraordinary that Counter Terrorism Policing South East have added Extinction Rebellion to the list of terrorist groups and extremist organisations that the Prevent strategy was set up to deal with.
“The guidance issued by the CTPSE is clearly unlawful. It constitutes an unlawful interference with human rights including free speech, right to assemble and enjoyment of a private life.
“The guidance is clearly designed to harm Extinction Rebellion and cast those who support the movement as domestic extremists. It is a glaring example of the sort of overzealous policing we have come to expect around protests. Being referred to Prevent could have long-lasting and life-changing consequences for a young school activist.”
After inquiries by the Guardian police said they were recalling the guidance and XR was included in error in the guide distributed to police, government and teachers in November 2019.
Carey, of Bindmans solicitors, said the recall did not go far enough: “It is not sufficient that CTPSE have sought to recall the guide from those that they shared it with. The advice in the guide … itself needs to be formally withdrawn and any decision taken to refer an activist of XR to Prevent needs to be urgently reversed.”
Kerry Moscogiuri, Amnesty International UK’s campaigns director, said the police actions added to longstanding concerns about Prevent. “It’s deeply shocking that the police ever seriously considered classifying peaceful climate crisis protesters as extremists. To see that schoolchildren were effectively going to be profiled under these proposed measures, just deepens our shock.
“Given that children are potentially those who will be most affected by the climate emergency, it’s vital that they are able to speak out on these issues without this heavy-handed and entirely disproportionate police attention. This episode only adds to our existing concerns about Prevent, which is a highly dubious scheme sorely in need of a proper, independent and impartial review.”
Prevent is the official anti-radicalisation programme trying to spot people at risk of falling into terrorism violence and divert them away from extremism.
It has faced concerns that it can impinge on freedom of thought and speech. Its supporters, which include government and the police, say it is vital to stop the flow of recruits to Islamist violence and to extreme rightwing terrorism. But it has been accepted that changes may be needed.
Source: The Guardian