CAGE’s Anas Mustapha argues that the groundwork for the Home Secretary’s targeting of “lefty lawyers” was laid by 20 years of terror legislation that has targeted Muslims.
The Home Secretary’s recent attacks on lawyers who defend the country’s most vulnerable clients including refugees are not unexpected. CAGE’s latest report charts how these assaults on justice have their roots in 20 years of terrorism legislation.
Priti Patel and the Home Office’s demonisation of “activist” and “lefty” lawyers is the natural end point of policies that have undermined the justice system, made possible through successive counter-terrorism laws over the last 20 years. This all began with criminalising aspects of Islamic belief, however it set a wider blueprint for control.
Shifting the focus towards the outright criminalisation of those who seek to protect justice, indicates a bolder and more concerning step towards the erosion of core values of justice and fairness.
Listening to survivors
Muslim organisations including CAGE have been raising the alarm bells about the danger that this erosion of justice will have more broadly.
CAGE’s latest report on the past 20 years of terrorism laws not only shows they have validated Islamophobia, but also that they have set a dangerous precedent for the silencing of others who challenge state policy – a fact now borne out by Patel’s statements.
Policies such as Prevent and the disruption powers aimed at activists were honed on Muslims then deployed against the rest of society – and we knew this would be the case.
We’ve seen Muslim charities hounded and even shut down through the use of the “terrorism” smear, and we have seen mosques bullied into silence on key issues facing the community.
We have spoken to clients – some of them children – who have been referred by teachers and lecturers to Prevent, and we have recorded the testimonies of hundreds of Muslim holidaymakers who have been stopped at airports and interrogated based on these policies. We’ve even had parents come to us, terrified after being threatened to have their children removed from them.
We’ve captured some of these voices in a new short film that you can watch here.
Terrorism laws have negated justice
While revisiting 20 years since the Terrorism Act 2000, what is especially concerning to us is that most “terrorism” convictions are based on laws that can prosecute behaviour that has no connection to violence. The Government’s own former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson described these laws as “[catching] persons whose connection with terrorist acts is at best indirect’.”
The laws also undermine key justice principles, for example, placing the burden of proof on defendants who at times cannot even see the evidence being used against them. This has resulted in a two-tier justice system: one for Muslims, another for everyone else.
The statistics in our report also show how illogical and wasteful the entire terrorism regime really is. Of the total number of all “terrorism-related” arrests over twenty years, 88% never lead to a terrorism conviction.
We know that too often the determining factor of whether an act or intention is a “standard” crime or “terrorism related” largely depends on whether the accused is Muslim.
This blatant discrimination aside, the spectacle of a counter-terrorism raids and arrests also forms part of the modus operandi of the whole system. It creates the impression that something is “being done” while ensuring greater funding and increased powers.
Repeal of terrorism laws
We have realised through our work the sad reality that most Muslims born since 2000 will be keenly aware of their suspect status, will have spent much of their education under Prevent, and have got used to preparing for Schedule 7 stops when traveling – and may even accept this as “normal.”
This attack on Muslims has been used as a blueprint for maintaining political control while keeping society divided and fearful. The passage of two bills that aim to allow government agencies to break the law and grant impunity for war crimes are a brazen assault on justice and only the latest example of this trend.
Our belief in Allah SWT must spur us on to speak the truth and continue our positive work to empower those around us, even if it is simply our own immediate family and community.
We must demand that the damage of the last 20 years be undone. This begins with repealing counter-terrorism legislation in favour of a safer, healthier future. Our eight point plan for a society beyond Prevent, which is included in this report, has more on this and why it is more pressing than ever.
Anas Mustapha is CAGE’s Communications and Content Manager.