A huge cheer erupted as the Stansted 15 group of defendants walked out of Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex on Wednesday.
The judge had indicated that the Stansted 15 will not be imprisoned for blocking a deportation flight in March 2017. Twelve received community service orders and three received suspended sentences later on Wednesday. They have said they will appeal.
They were convicted last December under the Aviation and Maritime Act, a piece of terror legislation with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
A statement by the Stansted 15 said, “The convictions will drastically limit our ability to work, travel and take part in everyday life. Yet, people seeking asylum in this country face worse than this: they are placed in destitution and their lives in limbo by the Home Office’s vicious system every single day.
“When a country uses draconian terror legislation against people for peaceful protest, snatches others from their homes in dawn raids, incarcerates them without time limit and forces them onto planes in the middle of the night, something is very seriously wrong.
“We demand that these convictions are quashed, and that the government dismantles the vicious, barely legal, immigration system that destroys so many people’s lives.”
The fight is now on to overturn their convictions.
Over 300 asylum seekers, anti-racist activists and campaigners from across Britain joined a solidarity protest outside the court throughout the day.
Lewis, a university student, had come from Goldsmiths College in south east London. He told Socialist Worker, “What’s going on is completely wrong—whether that’s the Windrush scandal, the government trying to deport people or trying to jail people for doing the right thing.
“They were trying to silence people who are trying to stop deportations.”
The Stansted 15 case has highlighted the brutality of Britain’s racist immigration system that imprisons and deports migrants. Around 30,000 people every year pass through Britain's twelve immigration detention centres—where they can be locked up indefinitely.
Flora from the All African Women’s Group (AAWG) asylum seekers group spoke to the crowd. “We stand for no more detention centres, no more chartered flights, no more deportations,” she said.
“We have a right to be here.”
She added, “You wouldn’t want to be in a detention centre for a day. It’s different from a prison because you don't know when you will be out.”
Anne-Marie from the AAWG had been locked up in Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre. She said, “There is no such thing as ‘voluntary return’—deportation is a forceful move.
The Tories are trying to get back on the front foot by ramping up racism against migrants and refugees.
Naima Omar from Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) called on people to join the national demonstrations in London, Glasgow and Cardiff on 16 March.
“The Tory government seemed on the back foot over the Windrush scandal, but they are feeling more confident now,” she said.
And she pointed out how “terror legislation has been imposed by governments to target Muslims”.
Anti-racists have been cheered by the decision over the Stansted 15. It should boost the fight to shut down all detention centres, end all deportations and grant migrants the right to live and come to Britain.