Islamic charity and human rights campaigners accuse British government of anti-Muslim bias.
Muslim rights groups in the U.K. have responded with anger to new proposals announced by Prime Minister David Cameron to give extra powers to the country’s charities regulatory body.
The government announced earlier Wednesday that it was proposing giving the Charity Commission, the regulatory body for British charities, more powers to be able to freeze charity bank accounts and suspend or remove trustees.
The proposals included banning people with convictions from being a charity trustee, disqualifying a person from being a charity trustee if the commission finds them “unfit,” shutting down charities which are under investigation and issuing official warnings for less serious cases.
The proposals came after a cross-party committee of lawmakers described the Charities Commission in February of this year as being “not fit for purpose.”
Reacting to the announcement of the proposals, the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said: “The reality is that the Charity Commission will have more teeth to harass innocent and law-abiding Muslim-run organizations.”
In a statement to The Anadolu Agency, the IHRC said: “Given that the government’s definition of extremism now incorporates a latitudinous range of beliefs and behavior, it will allow the Commission to target a larger number of charities, simply on account of the religious and/or political beliefs they or their partner organisations appear to hold.”
Similar sentiments were also expressed by Cage, an organization which campaigns on behalf of people wrongly accused of crimes under the so-called “war on terror.”
Cage spokesman Amandla Thomas-Johnson told the AA: “It seems as though the government is slowly turning the heat up on Muslim charities.”
A number of Muslim organizations have had their bank accounts closed down over the past year.
In August, Finsbury Park mosque, international development charity the Ummah Welfare Trust and the think-tank Cordoba Foundation all received letters from HSBC bank giving them notice that their accounts were being closed.
“These actions again have created further suspicion of Muslim charitable donations,” said Amandla.
Cage said the move was unfair, especially given that a poll last year revealed the British Muslims gave more to charity than any other group in the U.K.
Earlier this year, Barclays froze Cage’s bank account after the U.K.’s Treasury Department contacted the bank, following the arrest of former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, a signatory on the account.
All charges against Moazzam were dropped earlier this month.
One of Cage’s donors, the long-established and reputable Joseph Rowntree Foundation, was also put under investigation by the Charity Commission.
The charities watchdog said it had been looking into charities that use aid convoys to Syria as a front to fund “terrorism.”
The IHRC also accused the government of using the Charities Commission to target Muslims.
‘Instrument of repression’
The recent appointment of the former counter-terrorism chief, Peter Clarke, to the board of the Charity Commission “underlines this transformation of the Charity Commission from an oversight agency into an instrument of repression against British Muslims” the IHRC said.
Questions have also been raised about the head of the Charities Commission, William Shawcross, regarding his political views.
Shawcross was a supporter of the 2003 Iraq war — deeply unpopular in the U.K. — and has defended the imprisonment under extrajudicial arrangements of suspects at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, begun during the U.S. administration of George W. Bush, as “model justice.”
In October 2011, Shawcross was appointed a member of the board of directors of the Henry Jackson Society — itself a registered charity — which has been accused of having anti-Muslim views.
In the National Review in 2010, Shawcross attacked the Labour Party for being “in awe of Islam.”
And in an interview with the Sunday Times in April this year, he claimed: “The problem of Islamist extremism and charities … is not the most widespread problem we face in terms of abuse of charities, but is potentially the most deadly. And it is, alas, growing.”
‘Grab for power’
Amandla said: “Members of the Henry Jackson Society have long pushed an anti-Muslim agenda and have called for the targeting of the Muslim community.
“We worry about someone like Shawcross, with such views and links, being at the helm of the (Charities) commission.”
Cage said that there were already laws in place to ensure that charities are compliant with laws and regulations, but added that Cameron’s proposals showed a “further grab for power under the pretext of a supposed terrorist threat”.
“The politicization of the Charity Commission is extremely worrying, and giving them more powers will see them further entrench an anti-Muslim civil society agenda,” Amandla said.
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission told The Anadolu Agency that the organization “completely rejected the accusation the commission is disproportionately targeting Muslim organizations.”