Minister warns against using funds to spy on Muslim groups


A MAJOR British government-funded programme, costing £150 million (€166 million) this year, which seeks to turn young Muslims away from extremist organisations must not be used to spy on minority communities, a cabinet minister has said.

Under the programme known as “Prevent”, local authorities fund moderate Muslim organisations, though critics argue it is creating surveillance concerns among Muslims, and divisions between Muslims and other minority groups.

The Institute of Race Relations last month claimed it is being used to track the movements of individuals and list the identities of those attending meetings. It says this information is then shared with the police and security services.

Speaking in Birmingham, communities secretary John Denham acknowledged Muslims fear they are “opening themselves up to covert surveillance and intelligence gathering” by accepting funding. “Any programme that is surrounded by suspicion or misunderstanding simply will not work. Despite the significant progress that has been made in the first year of the programme, controversy, criticism and lack of clarity have unnecessarily limited its effectiveness,” he said.

Intelligence should not be gathered in ways “which cannot be openly acknowledged” with all of those involved in community groups, and must occur only where it is “lawfully justified”, said Mr Denham.

Police would become involved in cases where Muslim youths are known to be heading towards becoming involved in terrorist organisations, but this “is the same as for any other type of crime prevention”.

Prevent is targeted, he acknowledged, at “the particular challenge of al-Qaeda-inspired violence”, but local authorities should use an extra £5 million budget announced yesterday to help encourage integration in communities.

In its report last month, the Institute for Race Relations sharply criticised Prevent as being ineffective in deterring youths from extremism on the one hand, and discriminatory on the other.

Prevent funds are used to support Sufi Muslim community organisations, but not those from the Salafi sect because “theological criteria” deem Sufis “to be intrinsically more moderate than Salafis”, the institute claimed.

Five Muslim community workers claimed in May that MI5 tried to recruit them in Camden, and threatened them with detention and harassment if they refused to supply information.

In Birmingham, a youth worker who was acquainted with a man later convicted of offering support to the Taliban was placed under surveillance, Muslim groups claim. He later lost his job, though no evidence was found against him. Rejecting the allegations, the department of communities said every one of the allegations made in the institute’s report had been investigated and none of them stood up.