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'Prevent' strategy to be challenged for first time in British high court

Proceedings are expected to last for three days with potential for the case being taken to the Supreme Court
Dr Salman Butt was called an "extremist" by a Downing Street press statement last year (Screengrab: BBC)

The British government’s Prevent strategy is set to face its first legal challenge in the high court on Tuesday.

Salman Butt, who is a British-Muslim activist, launched the legal action after he was accused of being a “non-violent extremist” by the British government.

The Prevent strategy has been a cornerstone in the British government's attempts to curb militancy and stop the "radicalisation" of young people.

A parliamentary question to the Home Office revealed that Dr Butt had been accused of using - a web discussion forum he edits - as hosting material that went against British values.  

Early last September, Butt was also named in a British government press statement as being one of six individuals who had views which ran “contrary to British values like democracy, free-speech, equality and the rule of law”.

Butt has denied these claims and said that he did not hold views that ran contrary to British values.

In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday he reiterated that the Prevent strategy breached free speech rights and that he was “not an extremist”.

He told the programme that the he wanted the high court action to “bring transparency to the hidden processes by which individuals are tarnished with the label of an extremist”.

Butt also told the BBC how being labelled an extremist by the British government had “tarnished” his reputation and prevented him from “speaking at any university”.

Challenging definition of 'extremism'

His lawyers will specifically be challenging parts of the Prevent strategy that aim to stop people becoming or supporting terrorism.

It will also challenge the definition of “extremism” used by the Prevent strategy and how the so-called Extremism Analysis Unit collected information about Dr Butt.

The case was allowed to proceed earlier this year, after a High Court judge ruled that Butt had a legitimate legal case against the home secretary.

A spokesperson for the British Home Office declined to comment on Butt's case as the legal proceedings were ongoing.

Despite being lauded as a success by the British government, the Prevent strategy has come under heavy criticism by the Muslim community and senior politicians.

Shadow home secretary Dianne Abbott last month described the Prevent Strategy as being “simply unworkable”.

In a blog post for the Huffington Post Abbott said that strategy had an “alienating effect” on the Muslim community that was “counter-productive”.

The Prevent strategy became a legal statute after the passing of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act in September 2015.

Under the Act every public sector body is legally duty bound to engage with the Prevent strategy and report anyone suspected of being an extremist.

Court proceedings are scheduled to continue for three days with the case being potentially then going to the Supreme Court.

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