The Students' Union at UWE condemns the Prevent Duty

The Students’ Union at UWE today publicly condemns the Prevent Duty and calls on other students’ unions across the country to take similar steps to further encourage the government to immediately review this policy by joining the NUS ‘Students Not Suspects’ campaign, calling for justice to be served for all our students at all levels of education; regardless of if they are at school or university.  

SU President, Zain Choudhry, on behalf of The Students’ Union at UWE, discusses why it is important to condemn the Prevent Duty.  

“The Students’ Union at UWE is committed to fighting racism, discrimination and prejudice in all its forms. We believe that the government’s Prevent Duty, which became law in 2015, is a policy that further discriminates groups of people, especially Muslims, and goes against the values of The Students’ Union.

“The Prevent Duty, according to the official government definition, is 'The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 [which] contains a duty on specified authorities to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.’

“However, the Prevent Duty has been heavily criticised since its implementation by experts and leaders all across the country, including the UN Human Rights Council. Maina Kiai, the previous Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly (May 2011 to April 2017), has critiqued and labelled the UK Prevent Strategy as ‘inherently flawed’. Within his report submitted to Council, he also states that the policy was ‘inconsistent with the principle of the rule of law’ and appeared to be ‘having the opposite of its intended effect’. 

“Furthermore, NUS has also actively opposed and campaigned against the Prevent Duty due to a motion that was passed at an NUS Conference in 2015 calling for the Prevent Duty to be scrapped. They have also produced a ‘Preventing Prevent’ handbook as well as co-creating the ‘Students Not Suspects’ campaign which tours the country to educate our students on the dangers, racism and flaws of this policy. Additionally, the National Union of Teachers have also similarly voted in favour of a motion for the Prevent Duty to be scrapped.

“Criticism of the Prevent Duty has been widespread and is partly due to its unethical and inconsistent use. For example, a Staffordshire University post-graduate student was spotted reading a textbook entitled ‘Terrorism Studies’ and therefore, under the Prevent Duty umbrella, he was referred to the Prevent Officer of his institution and accused of terrorism by his own university. He was a student of Counter-Terrorism studying his academic textbooks but because of his appearance and name, he was unethically referred.

“Similarly, a Muslim schoolboy was questioned about ISIS after a class on environmental activism when he used the term ‘L’ecoterrorisme’ (translates to ‘the eco-terrorism’ which means to cause deliberate environmental damage in order to further political ends) in his French class. He was quoted in the Guardian saying ‘I didn’t know what was going on. They said there had been safety concerns raised. If you are taken out of French class and asked about ISIS, it is quite scary. My heart skipped a beat.’ According to the Guardian article, it is understood that the student had learned this term from an earlier session within the school debating society. Another example is also taken from a ten year-old Muslim schoolboy, who accidently said he lived in a ‘terrorist house’ instead of ‘terraced house’ and was also referred to Prevent. It is quoted by his father in the Telegraph of his child’s decrease in health after the incident: ‘After the incident he was so ill that he had to go to an emergency appointment with the doctors. He had bad stress, he was sick and he went to a school nurse. He's really worried about going to school. He's stressed. He eats less. It's shocking.’

“The Prevent Duty states that it is set up to counter all kinds of extremism, including right wing. However, studies and reports find that it disproportionally targets Muslims. 7,631 individuals were referred in 2015/16, 4,997 (65%) of which were referred for concerns related to ‘Islamist extremism’. The 2016 report by Rights Watch UK, ‘Preventing Education?’ concluded that the Prevent strategy systematically breached children’s rights in school; so what does that say for the rest of society?

"In accordance with a student motion passed at The Students’ Union, it calls for the Prevent Duty to be condemned and for The Students’ Union at UWE to boycott it as far as legally possible, whilst also lobbying our University to be transparent with its implementation. 

“This is why The Students’ Union has taken this action today. We hope that other students’ unions take similar steps.”