LONDON: Far-right extremists are handed much lighter prison sentences in the UK for online crimes compared to Islamists, new research has found.
Far-right offenders received sentences of around 24.5 months for hate and terror crimes committed on the internet. Islamists, however, were sentenced to treble that figure with prison terms averaging 73.4 months, according to the study from the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank.
The research found Islamists still posed a greater threat and committed more serious offences online than the far right.
But it also said a factor in the disparity in the sentencing is a failure by the British government to proscribe far-right groups as “terrorist,” therefore making them harder to prosecute than Islamist extremists.
“The lack of far-right groups subject to proscription in the UK, when compared to Islamist groups, has left the authorities reliant on hate crime legislation rather than specific terrorist offences which carry heftier sentences,” Nikita Malik, the report’s author, said.
The report looked at more than 100 court cases related to online extremism between 2015 and 2019 and ranked the offenses into six bands, according to 20 indicators.
According to the classification system, 65.5 percent of far-right offenders were situated in the lowest three risk bands and 34.4 percent were in the highest three.
In contrast, 52 percent of Islamists convicted of offences were in these higher bands and 48 percent were in lower bands.
“Islamists profiled in the report commit more dangerous, harmful, and complex offences online,” Malik said. “They do so with intent and to a large audience. Contrary to some narratives, it is Islamists that continue to pose a severe risk online.”
The report, commissioned by Facebook, aimed to develop new ways of identifying those who abuse social media platforms to spread extremism and hate.
The categorization system is designed to help social media companies respond to the most dangerous and harmful offenders.
Almost one third of the offenders analysed in the report used Facebook as a means to disseminate their views and content.
But the public forums were often used in conjunction with encrypted applications such as Telegram.
As a result, the report recommends that those tracking the extremists “monitor the migration of offenders from one platform to another, where they may take their followers and continue to promote extremist views.”