Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the charity chief executives body Acevo, has said that the Conservative Party’s decision to cancel a Muslim Charities Forum-sponsored fringe event at the party’s annual conference was an attempt to "demonise" the Muslim community.
The event, which was due to be hosted by Acevo on Tuesday at the conference in Manchester, was cancelled by party officials after they were contacted by The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, the newspaper reported yesterday.
Acevo said in a statement that conference officials cancelled the event after being contacted by the Sunday Telegraph journalist Andrew Gilligan, who questioned why the MCF was being allowed to take part in an event.
The Telegraph subsequently reported that the Muslim Charities Forum had been condemned by the government as "linked to individuals who fuel hatred, division and violence" and that it was stripped of £250,000 of state funding last year after it emerged that the charity had links with the Union of Good, an organisation that had funded the terrorist group Hamas.
It alleged that the Human Appeal, the charity run by the event’s main speaker, Othman Moqbel, also had links to Hamas. Human Appeal and Moqbel denied any links to terrorism.
The MCF also rejected the claims against it and denied that any of its members were also members of the Union of Good.
Acevo said it regarded the Conservative Party’s decision to cancel the event in response to Gilligan’s questions as a "direct attack on free speech" and "further evidence of the instinct to demonise rather than engage with the Muslim community".
It said that legal action about the story was being considered.
Called Faith and British Values: The Muslim Charities Question, the event was due to have been addressed by the education secretary Nicky Morgan, the former foreign secretary William Hague and the former chair of the Conservative Party, Lady Warsi.
It would have taken place on the same day that the home secretary, Theresa May, was expected to announce a new crackdown on Islamist extremism in a conference speech.
A spokesman for Acevo told Third Sector that the body learned of the event’s cancellation from the Sunday Telegraph article, but he later received a call from Helen Cole, commercial manager for the Conservative Party conference, in which he was told that the conference organisers retained the right to cancel fringe events at any time and Acevo would receive a full refund.
He said Cole had told him there had been a mix-up which meant that the event could no longer go ahead.
She admitted that the cancellation could have been communicated in a better way, he said.
Bubb also said in a statement: "The decision by Conservative Party organisers to cancel an important debate on the role of Muslim charities in our country is astonishing.
"To shut the doors of the nation’s governing party to this discussion is a deeply disturbing development. It alienates rather than involves. The Conservative Party was once the champion of free speech; it appears now to have withdrawn from that tradition.
"In the fight against terrorism, to ignore any engagement is to fight with one hand tied behind the back. We need to support Muslim charities’ role in community leadership against extremism, not reject them."
Omayma El-Ella, operations manager at MCF, said: "We sincerely hope that this ill-judged decision will be reversed to enable fair-minded conference delegates to find out more about the Muslim charity sector and make up their own minds. We would like to reiterate that no MCF member is a member of the Union of Good or has a political purpose or is involved in political work. In addition serious allegations in the [Telegraph] article are based on sources that have no credibility, have a divisive agenda and whose only purpose is to undermine Muslim charities."
Acevo said that the organisations involved intended to proceed with the event in some form at a different venue.
Human Appeal could not be reached for comment ahead of Third Sector’s deadline.
A spokeswoman for the Conservative Party said: "We won't be commenting, but I can confirm that the event has been cancelled."