Why the Conviction of the Stansted 15, on Terrorism-Related Charges, Must Be Overturned

21.12.18

The Stansted 15 (Photo: Kristian Buus / Getty Images).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

As someone who has spent the last 13 years working to end imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo, it has always been chilling to see these institutional crimes echoed in the UK. Under Tony Blair, foreign-born, alleged terror suspects were held without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, while other foreign nationals, and British nationals too, also regarded as terror suspects, were subjected to a form of house arrest, also on the basis of secret evidence, under what were known as “control orders.”

Unfortunately, throughout this period, the use of immigration detention was also on the rise. As the Guardian explained in an article in October based on a survey of its history, “The power to detain was created in the 1971 Immigration Act – however, it was not until the Labour government under Tony Blair that the detention estate expanded to become what it is today. In 2000, detention centres could hold 475 people, with another 200 or so held under immigration powers in prisons. Capacity has now expanded to about 3,500 spaces.”

The Guardian article noted that “[m]ore than 27,000 people were detained in 2017, according to the most recent figures”, adding, “Detention is now a significant part of the UK’s immigration enforcement efforts, but locking up immigrants without a time limit is a relatively recent phenomenon.”

As the Guardian article proceeded to explain, “The UK is the only country in Europe with no statutory time limit on detention. While most are held for days or weeks, the Guardian survey uncovered several cases where a detainee was held in excess of two years. Indefinite detention has been a key criticism of UK immigration policy. In 2015, the first ever parliamentary inquiry called for a 28-day time limit on detention. The Guardian survey found the vast majority of detainees are not told how long they will be held for or when they will be deported. The Shaw report [a report for Parliament in January 2016 by Stephen Shaw, who produced a follow-up report this summer] found that more than half of detainees were ultimately released back into the community, posing questions about the use of taxpayers’ money to pursue lengthy periods of detention.”

Shockingly, since the Tories came to power in May 2010, aided by the Liberal Democrats, one figure in particular has been at the forefront of government-driven racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia — Theresa May, who was home secretary for six years before becoming Prime Minister after the EU referendum in July 2016. I wrote in detail about her multi-faceted bigotry in an article at the time, entitled, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration.

Since that time, of course, the government’s racism and xenophobia has only increased as a result of the Brexit vote, and the Tory Party’s rightward drift and its desire to be seen as being tough on immigration. What has also, shockingly, been revealed, is Theresa May’s central role in the creation of the UK as a “hostile environment” for immigrants, and the Windrush scandal, when, disturbingly, immigrants who came from the Caribbean as children in the 1950s, but whose papers were lost, were forcibly repatriated.

In a major article in August, ‘Hostile environment: anatomy of a policy disaster’, the Guardian explained how, in 2012, May told the Daily Telegraph that her aim “was to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”, and how that subsequently ended up with the Windrush disaster. Succinctly explaining the scale of the disaster, Rob Whiteman, the head of the UK Border Agency from 2011 to 2013, asked, rhetorically, “What on earth went wrong that British citizens who have been here for 50 years and have rights to be here are being deported?”

While activists have regularly protested about the “hostile environment”, with, for example, regular protests outside Yarl’s Wood, the only detention centre for women, where, earlier this year, detainees went on a hunger strike to protest about the conditions of their detention, in March 2017, 15 activists — who became known as the Stansted 15 — “took non-violent direct action” at Stansted Airport “to prevent the deportation of 60 people on a charter flight bound for Ghana and Nigeria”, as Amnesty International explained, adding that their actions prevented the flight from leaving, and that, “Of the 60 individuals due to have been deported, ten are currently pursuing asylum claims in the UK, and at least one has since been granted permission to remain in the UK.”

Initially, as Amnesty International added, 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 which can lead to a life sentence.”

Their two-month trial at Chelmsford Crown Court began on October 1, and last week, on December 10 — ironically, Human Rights Day, making the 70th anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — the defendants were found guilty.

Responding to the verdict, the Stansted 15 said, “We are guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm. The real crime is the government’s cowardly, inhumane and barely legal deportation flights and the unprecedented use of terror law to crack down on peaceful protest. We must challenge this shocking use of draconian legislation, and continue to demand an immediate end to these secretive deportation charter flights and a full independent public inquiry into the government’s ‘hostile environment’. Justice will not be done until we are exonerated and the Home Office is held to account for the danger it puts people in every single day. It endangers people in dawn raids on their homes, at detention centres and on these brutal flights. The system is out of control. It is unfair, unjust and unlawful and it must be stopped.”

I can only hope that this verdict is overturned on appeal, because it sets a dangerous legal precedent for punishing what, in essence, was a valid response to a policy led by Theresa May that is, fundamentally, morally wrong. Interestingly, the UN has just included the Stansted 15 as “human rights defenders” in their first global survey since 2006 of the way that human rights defenders are treated around the world (see page 493 of the report).

As it currently stands, the sentencing of the Stansted 15 will take place on February 4, and if you can get along to show support, please do. I’ll try and be there, but in the meantime I’m posting a statement made by one of the 15, Ali Tamlit, a member of End Deportations and Plane Stupid, published by the Huffington Post on December 18, which, not coincidentally, was International Migrants’ Day.

I’m Proud To Be One Of The Stansted 15 – This Is Our Story
By Ali Tamlit, Huffington Post, December 18, 2018

Sooner or later, our struggle related to this trial will be over – but the wider struggle against the hostile environment must continue.

On Monday 10 December, two months after the trial began, myself and the 14 other activists that make up the Stansted 15 were convicted of “intentional disruption of an aerodrome in such a way that is likely to endanger the safe operation of the aerodrome”. This is a terror-related charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

As we were called into court that morning, I knew we were being found guilty. The direction of the trial and the way the judge’s summary framed things, there was no way we were getting a unanimous acquittal. And so, we sat there holding each other’s hands listening as one by one, we each had our names read out, followed by the word ‘guilty’.

It was a real blow. A few of us were crying. But even so, as the judge asked us to stand, I stood tall because I know that what we did that night was right. We decided to take action back in March 2017 because people’s lives were in danger. We didn’t endanger anyone that night. But the Home Office did: by attempting to force people on to these brutal deportation flights and send them to unsafe places.

Following the verdict, we were all in a state of shock. We mostly stayed in the waiting room of the court, not quite sure what to do next.

While sitting there, a couple of women from the Crossroads Women’s Centre came to say how sorry they were. They were both in the process of applying for asylum and said that if this is how the state treats us – citizens – then how can they expect any better? As we were chatting, I asked about their cases. Both of them had been waiting for seven or eight years. Whilst en route to court one of them had had her claim rejected again. “I’m used to it” she said. “Something like this happens every year at Christmas.”

That short conversation put things in perspective. We had a ten-week trial, but it is nothing compared to the countless people going through the brutal immigration system. Some of us might go to jail, but we will know exactly how long for and we will continue to be supported by thousands of people. But over 30,000 people a year are put in immigration detention centres where they can be held indefinitely and have no idea when they will be released or if they will be deported. We mustn’t forget that it is the people on the frontlines of the ‘hostile environment’ that need our solidarity most and that that is what our action was about.

The day after the verdict we held a demo outside the Home Office. At barely a day’s notice, on a cold December night, over a thousand people came to show their support and rage at both our conviction and the ‘hostile environment’. They stayed for over an hour and a half listening to speeches, and testimonies from people who were due to be on the plane we stopped.

It was an amazing, moving and healing space. As well as a bit weird with so many people wanting to say hello – it felt like we were celebrities. I appreciate the support so much. I just hope this energy can continue and be focused where it is needed most: supporting those on the frontlines and shutting down the border regime.

Today is International Migrants’ Day and at least 16 demonstrations have been called across the UK by Unis Resist Border Controls; standing in solidarity with us, calling for an end to the government’s hostile environment, closing all detention centres and an end to all deportations. There is an amazing energy around at the moment. Not just because of our case and its implications for wider protest movements, but also in response to the Windrush scandal and a growing presence of the far-right on our streets. For anyone who’s wondering what to do, my suggestion is to look around your local area. There are countless migrant support groups that need people to help out, if you have a spare room you could host a destitute asylum seeker, and if you want to take or support direct action, then look for campaign groups or find help from a training collective to help start one.

Our journey with this trial continues in February when we are sentenced. We are calling for people to come down to Chelmsford Crown court to show support and outrage at the use of anti-terror law on protestors. We’ve also got a crowdfunder and petition to help with our campaign.

Sooner or later, our struggle related to this trial will be over. However, the wider struggle against charter flights, the hostile environment and against borders must continue. This is where I hope people can direct the majority of their energy. We took this action to respond to people’s calls for solidarity and justice. Until radical changes happen, those calls will continue. And it’s down to all of us to answer.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, in which I join with the many voices expressing shock and dismay at the recent ruling, in a UK court, that the Stansted 15 are guilty of terrorism-related offences. These 15 brave individuals, who should actually be regarded as human rights defenders, took non-violent direct action in 2017 to prevent a plane from leaving Stansted Airport which, otherwise, would have deported 60 people to Ghana and Nigeria. As Amnesty International have explained, “Of the 60 individuals due to have been deported, ten are currently pursuing asylum claims in the UK, and at least one has since been granted permission to remain in the UK.”

    As I state in my article, “I can only hope that this verdict is overturned on appeal, because it sets a dangerous legal precedent for punishing what, in essence, was a valid response to a policy led by Theresa May that is, fundamentally, morally wrong.”

    My article also includes a cross-post of an article by one of the Stansted 15, published a few days ago by the Huffington Post, and an invitation to attend a protest in Chelmsford on February 4, the day of the sentencing.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Pam Arnold wrote:

    how ridiculous, then we are all terrorists

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Símon de Souza wrote:

    Quite. This is the criminalisation of *peaceful* dissent and the designation of the public as internal enemies, or to use the police term, “domestic extremists.”

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Pam and Jason!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    It depends on the judge, Andy. If you get another independent judge, he would decide the opposite, and state that it is the right to protect someone’s right to live and to seek shelter and safe harbour and amnesty, and that these individuals were purely attempting to ensure true justice to protect an innocent life was done.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    First of all, I suppose, we’ll have to see what the sentence is, Lilia. If it’s harsh, as it could be, then I suppose there’ll be a good case for an appeal on the basis of it being excessive, as happened with the three anti-fracking activists two months ago: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/17/court-quashes-excessive-sentences-of-fracking-protesters

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Andy, the important thing is to appeal and to ask for a different judge and get decent legal advice. A different judge could easily overturn the ruling so they need to make sure they get the right solicitors and right legal support. I wish them the best.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    I imagine they’re getting good legal advice, Lilia! Let’s hope so.

  9. John William Brown says...

    Even more relevant now as when first written. This verse from a poem I wrote in 2010. You people are so very courageous to take such direct action despite your fears. I admire you so much, My mere efforts are my words.

    “When they keep us down by more expense
    In jobs that do not pay,
    When they keep our time so managed
    That we’re anxious every day,
    When they fill our minds with fear & lies
    With new laws for Terrorists,
    (Keep in mind that they mean US!),
    Rebel Revolt Resist.”

    (From: “WHEN (Rebel Revolt Resist)”
    By john william brown 2010

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing that, John!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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