Solidarity with the Stansted 15

We must all stand up for the right to protest.

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan
Columnist

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Fifteen people could go to jail for life for protesting against deportation flights. In March 2017, 15 activists stopped a deportation flight chartered by the Home Office by breaking through the fencing at Stansted airport and chaining themselves to the wheel of the plane. They were initially accused of aggravated trespass. But the Crown Prosecution Service upgraded the charge to ‘intentional disruption of services and endangerment at an aerodrome’ under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act. This charge was introduced after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. This week the ‘Stansted 15’ were found guilty.

This is nuts. These people are not terrorists; they were clearly engaged in non-violent action. The Aviation and Maritime Security Act states that ‘it is an offence for any person by means of any device, substance or weapon intentionally to commit at an aerodrome serving international civil aviation any act of violence’ which threatens ‘the safe operation of the aerodrome’. But the Stansted 15 were not intent on harming anyone at the airport. All they wanted to do was stop the plane.

The plane was chartered by the Home Office to deport people to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. The Stansted 15 claimed they were saving these people’s lives. You could argue this was just a stunt, but they did manage to stop the flight. One man on that plane was going to miss the birth of his daughter due to his deportation – and he has since been granted permission to remain in the UK. As we saw in the Windrush scandal, the government’s approach to immigration control is chaotic and cruel: several of the people on board the plane were being deported under the ‘deport first, appeal later’ policy, which was deemed illegal shortly after the Stansted 15’s action.

The Stansted 15 ruling amounts to the criminalisation of political protest. And that is something we should all be very concerned about. The CPS stated that the protesters ‘placed themselves, the flight crew, airport personnel and police at serious risk of injury or even death due to their actions on the airfield’. But this is a twisting of the truth. Yes, the Stansted 15 screwed up a lot of people’s days, holiday plans and surely pissed off the people who had to cut them loose. But what is the point of protest if it is not disruptive?

spiked has long been arguing that free expression is under threat, and the clampdown on protest is part of this. Yes, many of the left-wingers currently challenging the treatment of the Stansted 15 are often found cheering on the kinds of censorious moves we see elsewhere in society, like No Platforming on university campuses or removing controversial opinions from social media. On this occasion, they just happen to agree with the people being criminalised. But that changes nothing. Whether you think the Home Office’s secret deportation flights are a travesty or not, the ability of citizens to engage in peaceful political protest must be protected.

The Stansted 15 are not terrorists. For the sake of all our freedoms, we must show them solidarity.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

Picture by: Getty.