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British-Muslim sues government over extremist labelling

London: A British-Muslim activist today launched legal action against the UK government’s anti- extremism strategy after he was labelled a “non-violent extremist”.

Salman Butt took his case to the High Court accusing the government’s Prevent strategy of breaching free speech rights.

Last September, Butt was named in a Downing Street press release about an aspect of the strategy, known as the Prevent duty, being used to stop extremists radicalising students on university campuses.

He was listed as one of the six speakers who gave talks on campuses and was said to have views that violated British values – such as democracy, free speech, equality and the rule of law.

The 31-year-old denies holding views contrary to British values.

“I’m a father of three, I’m a British-Muslim, a writer, an activist. I am not an extremist, either violent or non-violent. Being labelled as some kind of extremist does have a stigmatising effect. I have not spoken at any universities since I was named in the (Downing Street) press release,” he told BBC.

“My aim isn’t just to clear my name, it is to bring transparency to the hidden processes by which individuals are tarnished with the label of an extremist, to ensure it is brought into the scrutiny of the courts,” he said.

Earlier this year, a High Court judge ruled Butt had an arguable case against the UK Home Office, and permission was granted to take the judicial review case to a full hearing, which starts this week.

Butt’s lawyers are challenging part of the Prevent strategy that aims to stop people becoming or supporting terrorists.

“The Prevent duty guidance issued to higher education institutions is flawed because it conflicts with the right to free speech which is enshrined in the Education Act for higher education institutions,” said Saimo Chahal from Bindmans LLP.

“The challenge, if successful, could have major implications for the controversial policy as it applies to universities and higher education,” she said.

The hearing this week is scheduled for three days.

“It would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing legal proceedings,” a UK Home Office spokesperson said.