CAGE’S Anas Mustapha says the appointment of a senior police officer to a senior position at the Charity Commission should set alarm bells ringing for Muslim charities.
The appointment of Nick Baker, the Deputy Chief Constable at Staffordshire Police Force, as the Chief Operating Officer of the Charity Commission is yet more evidence of the securitisation and politicisation of what should be an independent, apolitical regulatory body that assists, rather than polices, civil society.
Baker’s role will involve overseeing corporate functions including HR, finance, governance, risk and assurance.
This type of securitised overreach has long been experienced by Muslim organisations including CAGE, as well as pro-Palestine advocacy groups such as War on Want. Many charities have bore the brunt of undue investigations, securitised interventions, bank account closures and organisational shutdowns.
These actions have created a climate of fear around aid and social justice work, and have had far-reaching effects on the public good locally, and devastating effects on those relying on legal and aid interventions in other parts of the world.
This environment has been facilitated by a continuously unfurling banner of laws that securitise the public sector, the aim of which is to muffle the voices of charities and hence silence advocacy for the causes they represent.
A more overt policing approach
Now with Baker’s appointment it appears that the Charity Commission feels safe enough to be open about its “ambitious strategy.” This has happened after spending the last number of years trialling an overt policing approach on Muslim charities.
This policing agenda was highlighted in a 2017 thesis about the Charity Commission entitled: Emergence of Institutional Islamophobia: The Case of the Charity Commission of England and Wales, by Dr Ismail Patel. Patel found that the Charity Commission had assumed a policing role “since partnering with the UK government’s ‘Prevent’ agenda – or war on terror – to control ungoverned spaces for extremism.”
Perhaps most glaringly is how the Charity Commission has taken on the duty of “proactive supervision” which includes, according to Patel’s thesis, to: ““proactively monitor the sector identified as being at higher risk.” According to William Shawcross, the [then] chairman of the Commission, this is the Muslim sector.
This has facilitated the Commission stepping way beyond its stated role as a charity regulator to police radicalism and non-violent extremism, “under both the criminal law and charity law.” This concerning position is given added power when the concepts of extremism, radicalising materials, unacceptable behaviour, and British values are all mired in vagueness, but carry a threat of prosecution for “glorification of terrorism.”
This anti-Muslim aggression on the part of the Charity Commission took place most intensively under William Shawcross, during whose tenure the Charity Commission was broadly accepted to be guilty of an anti-Muslim bias, having labelled 55 charities under “extremism and radicalisation,” a label for which there is no criteria for challenge.
Shawcross, who moved to the Charity Commission after heading up the right-wing Henry Jackson Society, eventually had to be reined in through a successful judicial review brought by CAGE.
This victory came as part of a long-running campaign that exposed Shawcross’s links to torture apologists, a startling revelation for the head of a body regulating local and international aid groups.
In addition to this, and despite having signed an Order of the Court agreeing otherwise, the Charity Commission continued pressurising a number of charities who had supported CAGE events.
Criminalisation of aid work
The unhealthy alliance between the Charity Commission, the police and Prevent continues to exist, and may well expand with Baker’s appointment; and with new definitions of “extremism” set by the ever over-excitable Commission for Countering Extremism, now keen to include the hold-all: “conspiracy theorists.”
The end point of this is a terrible stalling and even silencing of aid work, the hard edge of which is felt in the statutory enquiry, the most serious investigation that can be faced by a charity.
An ongoing statutory enquiry casts a long-term criminal lens over an organisation that hampers its ability to raise funds and deliver aid, and thus exerts long-term undue pressure on organisations who want nothing more than to get on with the business of helping people.
Human Aid recently called for the Charity Commission to conclude its over-year-long statutory enquiry – still with no results. Its aid workers have had to suffer ongoing humiliating Schedule 7 stops, and have even had aid donations seized by police, after which the Charity Commission moved in shortly afterwards.
This, despite an earlier investigation into Human Aid in 2017 that concluded that there had been “no misapplication of charity funds.”
While Human Aid was eventually returned the funds which had been destined for Gaza, the ongoing scrutiny has been hugely detrimental to the purposes of its charitable work.
This has been a common, and undue, experience of many other Muslim organisations.
The purpose of the Charity Commission
Our work calling attention to this abuse has always posed the question of whether, under this government, it is a crime to care.
Now, the intimacy between police and the Commission has been further fortified with the appointment of an ex-police force chief who will no doubt be keen to prove his mettle in a national body that is supposed to be working for the public good.
All those working in the civil society space should be alert to this.
Furthermore, Banks’ appointment should raise the question as to the actual purpose of the Charity Commission. Surely, a regulatory body should be focussed on supporting and facilitating aid both at home and abroad in a non-discriminatory, non-political, non-securitised manner?
More specifically, we should call for the purpose of the Charity Commission to be reset in line with what charity actually is, and what it means to Britain, which has a long history of ordinary people having a strong and valuable presence in both local and global causes.
If this does not happen the country will lose this standing, and millions will suffer needlessly in the process.
Anas Mustapha is CAGE Communications and Content Manager.