The Government’s counter-extremism strategy could seriously backfire and damage the values it is intending to uphold, a range of critics have warned.
A senior police chief, a national newspaper and a legal commentator have all highlighted flaws in the strategy, released yesterday, which includes controversial Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs).
Concerns have been raised that the terms for the orders are being “far too broadly drawn”.
Writing for the Guardian online, legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg noted that according to the Government, extremism is the vocal and active opposition to values such as the rule of law.
But he said expressing ideas that offend is an “essential part” of our fundamental values.
Rozenberg also criticised part of the strategy which proposes an “extremism community trigger”, whereby anyone will be able to complain about extremism to the local council or the police.
Potential for mischief
He said this means the police “turning up” at the street preacher or the blogger’s home to question them.
“The potential for mischief is enormous. Of course, there must be limits to free speech. But the police and local authorities are not best placed to judge them.”
Rozenberg’s comments were echoed by Sir Peter Fahy, who is the chief constable of Greater Manchester police and takes a lead on counter-terrorism.
He also told the Guardian: “There is a concern that efforts to control extremist narratives will limit free speech and backfire if we don’t get the balance right.
“The efforts to control extremism and limit protest by those caught by too wide a definition may undermine the very rights and British values you seek to protect.”
Sir Peter also warned of the danger that these measures would turn officers into “thought police”.
Today’s Daily Telegraph editorial said, “this law would extend far beyond the people it is intended to target”.
“A measure that is inimical to free speech not only defeats the point about upholding ‘British values’ but is unlikely to get through Parliament.”
A campaign supported by The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society has been launched to oppose EDOs.
The website defendfreespeech.org.uk gives up-to-date information about the campaign, and helps people to contact their MP about the proposals.