Preventing Prevent: Anti-terrorism policy “threat to free speech”

Prevent - Picture

Elected YUSU officers are campaigning for the Students’ Union to boycott the government’s ‘Prevent’ campaign.

Earlier this year, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) made it compulsory for universities to “prevent people being drawn into terrorism”.

The Act would require that the University of York monitored students who appear to be ‘withdrawn’ or seeking ‘political change’.

LGBTQ Officer Jack Chadwick said: “I am especially worried by the threats this poses to free speech on campus. By implementing Prevent, YUSU would force societies to comply with guidelines that can be used to arbitrarily shut down political discussion.”

The liberation officer also said: “YUSU should legally boycott Prevent to protect campus free speech and ensure that Muslim students are safe from the government’s fearmongering in their SU.”

However, a University spokesperson said: “We regard freedom of speech and individual rights as of the highest importance and will implement the statutory duty in a balanced and fair way.”

The Socialist Society has asked YUSU to consider boycotting the government’s Prevent policy “as far as is legally possible” in a policy idea submitted to the Policy Review Group.

If adopted, the policy would also see YUSU working with trade unions to combat Prevent and educating students on the dangers of the CTSA.

The Students’ Union would also lobby the University to be more open and transparent about how they are engaging with Prevent and other similar initiatives.

Sociology Department lecturer and ‘Prevent’ expert Dr Katy Sian said: “Underpinned by an Islamophobic logic, the notion of ‘suspect communities’ has led to the exclusion and degradation of Muslim populations whereby even the most banal behaviour is subjected to scrutiny under the guise of ‘de-radicalization’.”

The University already delivers an awareness module available to all students on the VLE, as part of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The programme gives advice on how to spot signs of radicalisation.

Registar and Secretary, David Duncan, said: “Under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (2015), the University has a statutory duty to respond to the Government’s Prevent agenda.

“We are currently awaiting further guidance from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which has been given an oversight role for the sector.

“Once that guidance is available, we will finalise a risk assessment and action plan.”

YUSU President Ben Leatham said: “The government’s Prevent strategy is a worryingly vague piece of legislation that tries to tackle, amongst other things, extremism on university campuses.

“Its vagueness has resulted in other institutions across the country taking excessive action to monitor and regulate student activities, especially those of Muslim and BME students.

“This is completely unacceptable. Having met with various members of University management it is clear that York is taking a measured approach to enacting Prevent, which is encouraging.

“I have been assured of the institutions commitment to free speech and diversity. At this stage we will continue to work with the University to ensure they are interpreting Prevent in a moderate way and are being as transparent as possible.

“Universities are a place for education, not surveillance.”

The policy submitted to YUSU will face the Policy and Review Group later this week, with the group’s decision announced next week in a blog on the Students’ Union website.

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