The British government arrested more people than ever on suspicion of terrorism offences over the last twelve months, according to new figures released by the Home Office today. But while Muslims accounted for 97 per cent of those imprisoned for terrorism, Christians made up the majority of people imprisoned under counter-extremism legislation.
But rather than being cause for direct concern over terrorism, or indeed about celebration for how much safer we may be, questions are being raised as to the use of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures by the police, while the government broadens the definition of what counts as an extremist in the United Kingdom.
The Home Office report states that in the year ending 31 March 2015:
- There were 299 persons arrested for terrorism related offences, an increase of 31% compared with the 229 arrests the previous year. This was the highest number of arrests since the data collection began in September 2001, higher than the 284 arrests in the year of the 7 July London bombings (year ending 31 March 2006).
- The most recent increase was driven mainly by a rise in arrests between October and December 2014, which saw 106 arrests. The most recent quarter (January to March 2015) saw 67 arrests.
- All age groups, except 25-29 year olds, saw a rise in the number of arrests. Most notably, the number of 18-20 year olds arrested more than doubled compared with the previous year, from 20 to 43 arrests.
- Seventy-eight per cent of those arrested considered themselves to be of British, or British dual nationality. This proportion has seen a rapid increase since the year ending 31 March 2011, where only 52% of those arrested considered themselves to be British.
- Of the 118 persons charged following a terrorism-related arrest, 100 (85%) were charged with a terrorism-related offence, the highest proportion since the data collection began. Of the 100 persons charged with a terrorism- related offence, 35 have been prosecuted, of which 33 have been convicted. Sixty-two were awaiting prosecution and the remaining 3 were not proceeded against.
Last month a Conservative Member of Parliament said that anti-extremism powers should be used against Christian teachers who don’t agree with gay marriage, and Britain’s Conservative Party Education Secretary Nicky Morgan also claimed that ‘homophobia’ may be grounds for believing that someone is a political “extremist”.
As of March, there were 192 people in custody in Great Britain for terrorism-related offences and domestic extremism/separatism, comprising of 122 people in custody for terrorism-related offences, and 70 people in custody for domestic extremism/separatism. The Home Office claims that the rise in non terror related offences was due to the increase in members of the English Defence League prosecuted.
As at 31 March 2015, of the 122 people in prison for terrorism-related offences, 118 were Muslim.
In the same period, of the 70 people in prison for domestic extremism/separatism the majority (39) considered themselves to be Christian, and 26 considered themselves to have no religion. All but one person considered themselves to be of ‘White’ ethnicity, and 94 per cent considered themselves to be of ‘British’ nationality.
The new statistics may raise concerns that white, Christians are being targeted for their activism in opposing radical Islam, or indeed for criticising same-sex marriage legislation.