The Stansted 15, the group of peaceful protestors that halted a plane deporting immigrants from the UK, have been sentenced to 12 counts of community service and three given a delayed sentence in a landmark ruling.
Hundreds of human rights protestors gathered outside Chelmsford Crown Court for the morning sentencing as protestors held signs which read “defend the right to peaceful protest”, “Stansted 15 innocent, Foreign Office guilty of torture” and “prosecute the Home Office for illegal deportations”.
A spokesperson for the Green Party wrote on Twitter: “Obviously this is a time to celebrate. But let’s not forget the
#Stansted15 should never have been in the dock in the first place. These activists are human rights defenders. The real criminals are the Home Office.”
BREAKING: Our heroes the #Stansted15 are set to go free.
We hope this leads to a day when all migrants and refugees are free from this Government's hostile environment. https://t.co/Xiof3loAbd
— Green Party (@TheGreenParty) February 6, 2019
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, called the news “wonderful”.
Wonderful news – none of #Stansted15 are going to prison!
This is a blow to #HostileEnvironment & Govt's brutal charter deportation flights.
But these heroes should never have been convicted under terror legislation. Their convictions must be quashed.https://t.co/MVsVLgl3fM
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) February 6, 2019
Following the ruling, Diane Abbott MP tweeted her support for the Stansted 15 and for peaceful protest, adding that “civil disobedience has been used for centuries to challenge injustice”.
Civil disobedience has been used for centuries to challenge injustice. The Stanstead 15's campaign against brutal charter flight deportations was simply another example of this. These unprecedented terrorism charges were a threat to our right to protesthttps://t.co/NUM4oWTOND
— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) February 6, 2019
The human rights organisation Liberty, alongside key politicians including Caroline Lucas and Diane Abbott, had condemned legal action against the peaceful protestors as an infringement upon their right to protest. Abbott and the actress Emma Thompson were two of the names to sign an open letter condemning the conviction.
Protestors have been gathering outside Chelmsford Crown Court, the general mood is celebratory as protestors escape harrowing prison sentence Image credit: Twitter
The ruling follows a letter written by a Liberty spokesperson to Chelmsford Crown Court judge Christopher Morgan, which had urged him to be sympathetic: “Where protesters break the law, but do not commit violent acts, we suggest care should be taken in order to ensure that their rights at common law and under articles 10 and 11 of the European convention on human rights (ECHR) are not breached,” they said.
Care should be taken to ensure [protestor] rights at common law and under articles 10 and 11 of the European convention on human rights are not breached
A spokesperson for human rights organisation, Liberty
Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention protects freedom of expression, including peaceful protests, and article 11 guarantees freedom of assembly and freedom of association.
Stansted 15 member discusses preparing for a possible prison sentence
Ben Smoke, a member of the Stansted 15 and a freelance journalist, earlier this week reflected in the Guardian about the possibly of spending time in prison. He wrote that his mum had told him she’d been preparing for him to go “inside”.
“I’ve thought about the things I’m going to say to my pals, the looks I’m going to share with my fellow defendants, the desperate hug I’ll share with my mum in the doorway to the court as we’re called in, both of us reassuring the other that it’s going to be OK, both of us knowing that the other may be lying. I think about all these things and more, and realise just how lucky I am,” he wrote.
The Stansted 15 are to go free, but the Green Party have warned that they should never have faced imprisonment in the first place. Image credit: Twitter
Smoke wrote about his inspiration for the peaceful protest at Stansted Airport in 2017 which led to his arrest for breaking into the protected airside area of the airport and surrounding a plane.
Those who are grabbed from the streets, from their places of work or from their homes in the darkness of the night
Stansted 15 member Ben Smoke
“In 2017, the UK held 27,000 people in indefinite immigration detention; 15% of these were taken in during routine Home Office appointments. In other words, 4,050 people attended an appointment one day, expecting to walk in, sign something to confirm their compliance and walk back out to their families and lives, but instead were whipped away without warning to be held indefinitely in a detention centre. On top of this, there are those who are grabbed from the streets, from their places of work or from their homes in the darkness of the night.”
The protestors had launched an appeal against their conviction in December 2018 of endangering the safety of an aerodrome under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act.
“The conviction of the Stansted 15 was a travesty of justice
Law firm Hodge Jones & Allen
Raj Chada, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, who represents the activists, said at the time: “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.”
Helen Brewer, one of the 15 activists who were convicted, said: “We are appealing our convictions because justice has not been done. Justice will only be done when we are acquitted of a crime that is completely disproportionate to an act of peaceful protest and when the Home Office is held to account for the danger it puts people in every single day – people who have sought asylum in this country fleeing harm and persecution in the very places the government deports them to.
“Those are the real crimes – the use of brutal, inhumane and barely legal deportation flights, and the unprecedented use of terror law against peaceful protesters who acted to prevent harm.”
The Stansted 15 are aged between 27 and 44 and are members of the End Deportations protest group.