The Stansted 15 activists should be supported, not punished | Letters

Supporters including Diane Abbott, Phillip Pullman, Emma Thompson and Caroline Lucas write in defence of the 15 human rights activists who acted to stop a ‘brutal, secretive and barely legal deportation flight’ last year

We the undersigned express our deep concern and disagreement with the recent prosecutions at Chelmsford crown court against the 15 human rights activists who acted to stop a brutal, secretive and barely legal deportation flight last year (Report, 11 December). The “Stansted 15” have been convicted of “endangering an aerodrome” under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 – a terrorism-related law. The use of this draconian legislation is grossly disproportionate and a clear abuse of power.

Helen, Joe, Lyndsay, Ben, Mel, Nathan, Laura, Jo, Nick, Ali, Eddie, Emma, May, Ruth and Melanie chained themselves around a deportation charter flight bound for Nigeria and Ghana in March 2017 with the sincere belief that they were preventing the 60 people on board from coming to harm. As a result of their 10-hour blockade, 11 people – including victims of trafficking recognised under the Modern Slavery Act – are still here in the UK with their loved ones.

This group of ordinary people took extraordinary and peaceful action in the knowledge that they were saving lives. But now they face prison sentences. It is the UK government’s brutal and unjust “hostile environment” that should be found guilty of endangering human lives, and not the peaceful efforts of 15 people to keep them safer. The UK is the only country in Europe to lock up people with uncertain immigration status indefinitely; 3,000 people are incarcerated in immigration prisons in the UK at any one time.

The UK is also one of the few to fill chartered planes with deportees when legal cases are still unresolved. Nearly half (47%) of all appeals to deportation decisions last year were successful and 75% of Home Office appeals on immigration decisions are rejected. The Windrush scandal has shown us that the UK immigration system violates human rights. The Home Office constantly racially profiles, uses unfair targets, and victimises and expels people who have the right to live here.

We call on the UK government to end its inhumane hostile environment policies and to end its shameful deportation charter flights. We also call for the Stansted 15 to be spared prison. They did not aim to inconvenience people, and this arduous trial has had such a profound impact on their lives that they are unlikely to take such action again. The Stansted 15 are a credit to human rights. They and their intentions should be supported, not punished.

Diane Abbott MP Shadow home secretary, Shami Chakrabarti Shadow attorney general, Caroline Lucas MP, Naomi Klein Writer, Alice Walker Writer, Akala Hip-hop artist and author, Emma Thompson Actor, Prof Angela Davis Writer and activist, Phillip Pullman Author, Brian Eno Musician, Manual Cortes General secretary, TSSA, Peter Gabriel Musician and more than 300 others (see tinyurl.com/yd2xcqmg)

• My heart goes out to the men and women found guilty of terror-related charges for attempting to stop the deportation of people who are victims of the government’s hostile environment policy. Some of those people on the stopped plane are still in England and have a legal right to remain. Hence the actions taken by the Stansted 15 prevented immoral illegal deportations and are for, not against, the national interest.

If the government was not operating in such a rogue fashion such counter-measures would not be necessary. This is a bleak period in our history and these brave men and women shine a light on the opaque, harmful actions of a government that have led to deaths and the breakdown of families and communities across the UK. They should be commended, not incarcerated.
Holly Hope-Smith
Liverpool

• On 2 July 2018 the National Democracy Week Awards were announced, timed to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act. The Collaboration of the Year award is given to individuals or organisations that have come together to reach a shared goal. This year it was awarded to the People’s History museum. But who will win next year? There’s still time to nominate the Stansted 15 who have come together for a peaceful protest to protect human rights in the UK. The outcome of their protest has been outstanding, with 11 people who would have been deported still here and appealing their deportation. One deportee wrote in the Guardian: “They are heroes … they helped me see justice - and the birth of my daughter”.

Just like the suffragettes, the Stansted 15 now face draconian convictions for peaceful defence of human rights in the UK. All the more reason to nominate this group for the 2019 Collaboration of the Year award.
Dr John Bremner
Edinburgh

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