The charges against the Stansted 15, who heroically challenged the discriminatory nature of deportation, must be dropped writes Nadine El-Enany
Today 15 activists go on trial for terror and public order related offences for stopping a chartered deportation flight to Nigeria and Ghana from taking off from Stansted airpot, London, in March last year. The protesters should be commended for taking a stand against the inhumanity and violence of deportation, but instead they face serious criminal charges which carry a sentence of up to life imprisonment. The decision to charge the protesters is shameful and wrong. By stopping the flight they were preventing the government from deporting people in fear of persecution and with ongoing legal cases to remain in the UK. The charges against the Stansted 15 must be dropped.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must consider whether prosecution is in the public interest before deciding to prosecute. It is not in the public interest to prosecute the Stansted 15, who were nothing short of heroic in preventing the deportation flight from taking off on 28th March 2017. The moral case against deportation is clear. Deportation is racist in disproportionately affecting people racialised as non-white. People being deported are subjected to violence and abuse. Unauthorised and excessive restraint techniques are used on deportees. In 2010 Jimmy Mubenga was killed after being restrained by G4S guards whilst being deported from the UK to Angola. The government uses secret charter flights so that its violent, abusive and potentially unlawful deportations take place out of sight and out of mind.
The Stansted 15 were exercising their right to protest, which is protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, when they stopped the chartered deportation flight. Mass, secret deportations subvert the legal process. The government deports people whose legal cases are ongoing. These activists were, therefore, upholding the legal process and preventing the Home Office from acting illegally. Just over two months after the Stansted protest, the Supreme Court ruled unlawful the Secretary of State’s power to deport people with a human rights based appeal before it has been heard – known as the ‘deport first appeal later’ provision. This Supreme Court ruling has vindicated the actions of the Stansted 15. The activists were right to question, protest, and seek to prevent the government from taking potentially unlawful action in deporting the 37 people due to board the flight. Some of the 34 people who were not deported as a result of the protest are still in the UK and have ongoing legal cases to remain with their families, friends and communities. Following the successful protest, one man was released and able to rejoin his partner and young child.
Immigration and asylum legal processes are not fair. First, the legal definition of a refugee is extremely narrow. This means people are at risk of being returned to harm even when they are not formally found to be refugees. Second, the asylum process is designed to ensure that the maximum number of asylum claims are denied, for example, through the designation of countries as safe, even where there is evidence to the contrary, and by accelerating procedures, meaning that claims are not carefully considered. Increasingly, initial decisions are overturned. In 2016, the year before the Stansted protest, 42 per cent of asylum appeals against refusal decisions were successful.
The Stansted 15 have been charged with intentionally disrupting services at an aerodrome under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, legislation that was introduced in response to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and was designed to target terrorist activity. Parliament did not intend for this legislation to be used against political protesters. The use of the criminal law against protesters, and in particular offences designed to target serious and organised crime, sets a dangerous precedent. Not only does it paint legitimate, humanitarian and political protest as terrorist activity, it also risks dissuading people from engaging in protest for fear of being criminalised.
The activists have also been charged with aggravated trespass under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Charging political protesters with public order offences forces the public, media, and legal argumentation, to focus on activists’ alleged behaviour, rather than the legitimacy of political protest and their political and humanitarian motivations. The decision to prosecute the Stansted 15 is a political one. This trial is designed to deflect attention and scrutiny away from the government’s inhumane and unlawful deportation regime. The charges against the Stansted 15 must be dropped immediately.
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