A group of anti-deportation activists face lengthy jail terms—including the possibility of life behind bars—as they go on trial on Monday.
The 15 defendants attempted to block the take-off of a charter plane at Stansted Airport in Essex in March last year.
There were 57 migrants, who the British government deemed “illegal”, being sent back to Nigeria and Ghana on the jet. And there was double that number of security guards on board.
The protest took place in an aircraft parking bay far away from the runways and the main terminal. The activists dressed in bright pink to ensure they were visible. None were armed or posed a danger to others.
But the Crown Prosecution Service brought charges against them using the Aviation and Maritime Security Act. This is a piece of terrorism legislation which has never been used against political protest before.
The Act allows for lengthy sentences, including life imprisonment, with the trial expected to last for up to six weeks.
Having been shaken by the scandal of the Windrush Generation, the Tories are now nervous about deportations. They are now using charter planes with unscheduled take-offs, rather than normal commercial flights, in a bid to avoid more bad publicity.
They don’t want the world to see pictures of shackled black people being sent off to countries where they may well face prison and persecution.
The state also wants to make solidarity action for migrants ever more difficult to organise. Almost half of all immigration rulings are overturned on appeal, and ministers are aware that protests can have an influence.
That’s why the activists face this type of prosecution. It is to send a clear message to everyone who fights for migrants’ rights—if you attempt to point a spotlight at the state’s injustices, we will attempt to destroy your lives.
But it is also clear that protests against mass deportations are not the only type that the Tories are worried about.
Three anti-fracking activists were given lengthy jail sentences last week. Simon Roscoe Blevins and Richard Roberts were sentenced to 16 months in prison and Richard Loizou was sentenced to 15 months.
The men climbed on top of lorries being used at the Preston New Road fracking site, near Blackpool in Lancashire. They stayed peacefully on the vehicles for four days last July.
They were prosecuted under public nuisance—an offence that has no sentencing guidelines and little legal precedent.
The government hopes that ever-harsher sentences will deter us—but escalating protests and solidarity must be our answer to their clampdown.
Send messages of support to anti-fracking activists Richard Roberts, Simon Roscoe Blevins and Richard Loizou at HMP Preston, 2 Ribbleton Lane, Preston, Lancs, PR1 5AB. For more details go to frackfreefoursupporters.org