Yesterday morning 15 activists stood trial for having obstructed a controversial night-time deportation charter flight. The main charge is of aggravated trespass, but perhaps more significantly of endangering an aerodrome (airport), which is a terror-related offence. This would be the first time the charge has been brought against citizens using non-violent direct action, and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The activists plan to plead not guilty.
Deportation charter flights have been widely criticised for excessive brutality and for being hidden from the public eye. Since 2001, the UK has been deporting immigrants on regular pre-paid flights, a move which leads to the claim that people are being picked randomly to fill a quota of seats. This is despite the fact many have active legal battles (and ultimately then, a possibly legitimate reason) to stay in the UK.
A spokesperson for End Deportations asserted that the operations are “violent in their nature, with often two guards per person,” and that passengers “are just normal people from our communities forced onto flights, people who have lived sometimes decades in this country or sometimes people who are medically unfit to fly.”
It’s hard to see how history will look on this kindly.
He clarified that: “We are against deportations in general, not just charter flights,” and referenced a particularly dark incident where passenger Jimmy Mubenga died, while being forced onto a commercial flight due to take him to Angola. “It’s really just inhumane. We have a completely broken system.”
Some voices in government concur, such as Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott who also characterized the charter flights as “brutal and inhumane” in March last year. An inspection in 2011 raised concerns of a “shamefully unprofessional and derogatory attitude” amongst escorting staff.
According to a statement by End Deportations about the Stansted incident, “the activists dressed in bright pink… (and then) lay on the tarmac for over ten hours,” so were “in no way intimidating.”
34 out of the 57 passengers were not then deported and so had time to continue their legal battles.
The spokesperson went on to relate that “One person whose partner was heavily pregnant got to stay and is now up in Scotland. Good stories like that make it worth it.”
The date of the trial has now been twice changed, which some believe is a deliberate attempt to dissuade protests. Despite this activist groups gathered outside Chelmsford Crown Court, in a show of support for those being prosecuted.