Birmingham UCU send our support and solidarity to the ‘Stansted 15‘, who were convicted on the 10th December 2018 of ‘endangering an aerodrome’ under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 during their protest against a secretive deportation flight the previous year.
This terrorism-related law was initially adopted in response to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and its use against the Stansted 15 has been widely condemned as disproportionate, highly draconian and a hugely worrying sign for British democracy.
The Stansted 15 have yet to be sentenced, but when they are sentenced in February the maximum sentence that they might serve is life imprisonment.
This is a concerning sign of the lengths that the Crown Prosecution Service will go to in their attempt to silence and prevent peaceful protest by those opposed to the Government’s policy, policy which is designed to create a ‘hostile environment’ for refugees and immigrants.
The protest for which the conviction was given saw the Stansted 15 chain themselves around a deportation charter flight bound for Nigeria and Ghana in March 2017. In doing so, they sincerely believed they were preventing the sixty people on board, who were destined for deportation, from coming to harm.
As a result of their ten hour blockade, eleven people – including victims of trafficking recognised under the Modern Slavery Act – are still here in the UK with their loved ones.
In appealing this conviction, their lawyer stated: “The conviction of the Stansted 15 was a travesty of justice that needs correcting in the appeal courts. It is inexplicable how these protestors were charged with this legislation, and even more so that they were found guilty.
“It is our strongly held belief that charging them with this offence was an abuse of power by the Attorney General and the CPS. It is only right and fitting that this wrongful conviction is overturned.”
Other trade unions have also offered their support. UVW, the campaigning union that supports mainly migrant workers released a statement: ‘The government’s punitive, racist asylum and deportation policies, aimed at criminalising the very act of migration, have devastating and long-lasting consequences for those seeking refuge. These secretive charter flights are pre-booked and later filled by the Home Office, creating a demand for migrant bodies to be removed irrespective of their current immigration status. The peaceful action of the #Stansted15 saved lives and resulted in 11 people out of the 60 who were on the plane being granted legal status in the UK.’
Amnesty International have also released a solidarity statement in which they say: “At first, the Stansted 15 were charged with aggravated trespass, but four months later this was changed to ‘endangering safety at aerodromes’ – a serious terrorism-related charge. […] We are concerned that they may have been charged with this very serious offence that is not justified by their actions to discourage other activists from taking non-violent direct action in defence of human rights. If so, this would be an unacceptable restriction on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
“Criminal laws are being increasingly misused around the world to prevent the work of human rights defenders. It is extremely worrying that we are now seeing this happen in the UK.”
Commenting on the conviction in the New Statesman, Steven Cammiss, Brian Doherty, and Graeme Hayes, noted that, “This verdict is a particularly cold blast in the increasingly chill wind blowing against public dissent in the UK. Most prominently, it directly places severe penalties on any future protest against deportation flights, providing the prosecution could demonstrate that any kind of object or substance was used in the protest, in whatever way.” In acting to prevent such protests, therefore, the conviction represents a threat to all kinds of civil liberties and rights of association such as those which trade unions need to routinely draw upon in upholding their rights in the workplace. As Cammiss, Doherty and Hayes conclude, “It is this [threat to democracy], and its potential consequences for freedom of assembly and expression in the UK, that makes the Stansted 15 trial perhaps the most important political trial of our times.”.
Birmingham UCU members who want to support the Stansted 15 can do the following:
- Donate for their appeal: https://chuffed.org/project/end-deportations-charter-flight-action-trial-related-costs
- Follow the campaign group, End Deportations, who will be regularly announcing protests and solidarity events to support the Stansted 15 – https://www.facebook.com/EDeportations/ and com/EDeportations
- Write a line for support through Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/write-for-rights/action/stansted-15
*Featured image from the Right to Remain campaign for the Stansted 15.