Stansted 15 verdict: Using counter-terrorism to erode civil liberties
They peacefully blocked a chartered flight bound for Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone, filled with 60 migrants - some of whom could have met their death upon arrival.
This Monday, following a nine-week trial, and three days of deliberations, the activists - known as the Stansted 15 - were convicted of terror-related offences by a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court.
They went from being activists who took direct actions, to being considered convicted terrorists by the British legal system. When Theresa May set out to create a hostile environment for 'illegal' migration, she failed to explicitly divulge that such a campaign would extend to anyone with any sense of moral or political duty to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable people amongst us.
The outrageous verdict came as a shock to many, especially given their non-violent action was in response to the state's own extremist practices. These practices have dehumanised migrants, refugees and people of colour to such an extent, that systematically imprisoning, shackling, then deporting them without consequence, is now apparently fair game.
As Benjamin Smoke, an activist with End Deportations explained, "We were charged with endangering life but we took the actions at Stansted to try to protect life."
|Imagine the message it sends out to all future protestors: Non-violent migrant solidarity actions could land you in prison for life|
He told the court "I was fighting to stop the plane deporting people to a place where they would be at risk of being killed or seriously harmed."
Smoke stated that 11 people whose deportation was delayed as a consequence of their action, are still in the UK appealing to remain, "That's something for us to hold on to" he added.
One of the people on the flight that night who would have been forced out of the country against their will, wrote of the significance of the #Stansted15's direct action, as well as what the consequences would have been, had it taken off as planned:
"Imagine it. You've lived somewhere for 13 years. Your mum, suffering with mobility issues, lives there. Your partner lives there. Two of your children already live there, and the memory of your first-born, who died at just seven years old, resides there too.
"Your next child is about to be born there. That was my situation as we waited on the asphalt - imagining my daughter being born in a country where I'd built a life, while I was exiled to Nigeria and destined to meeting my newborn for the first time through a screen on a phone."
This individual, who was able to appeal then win the case against being deported (but understandably remained anonymous), pointed out that, "a crime is doing something that is evil, shameful or just wrong - and it's clear that it is the actions of the Home Office that tick all of these boxes; the Stansted 15 were trying to stop the real crime being committed."
It is clear, that the government is hoping to make an example of the End Deportations collective. The law used to convict the stansted 15 as terrorists, has only been used once previously, in 2002 for a pilot who flew his helicopter into a control tower, and who served three years in prison.
Furthermore, the law which is found under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act, relates to international terrorism as explained by Dr Graeme Hayes in The Guardian. Yet throughout the weeks of trial, the links between these claims and the Stansted 15's action were not made.
This case is, in many ways a watershed moment in the ongoing assault against civil liberties in the UK. It has once and for all demonstrated that the line between activism, disobedience and terrorism is purposefully being blurred in Britain and that the so-called 'anti-terror laws' are playing a central role in this process.
The chilling effect of these laws, as well as the government's Prevent policy, is clear. The Stansted 15's verdict is one of the starkest examples of this yet. Imagine the message it sends out to all future protestors: Non-violent migrant solidarity actions could land you in prison for life and label you a potential international terrorist. Dystopian does not start to cover it.
The guilty verdict delivered to these activists sheds a light on the violence that the state enacts in the name of border control and how this violence is increasingly mobilised and structured through the prism of counter-terrorism.
|The guilty verdict delivered to these activists sheds a light on the violence that the state enacts in the name of border control|
In the last few years, a growing body of evidence has demonstrated that the language of tackling terror and extremism, and the laws that are put in place to do so, are increasingly mobilised well beyond their remit.
Palestine and anti-fracking activists are targeted under Prevent. So-called 'gangs' - ie. overwhelmingly Black and Asian working class boys - are being prosecuted under terrorism charges. And now this. The erosion of civil liberties, first tested and normalised on Muslim communities across the UK, continues to spread to all parts of society and will not stop until we - collectively - make it.
It is now incredibly urgent for us to stand in uncompromising solidarity with the Stanstead 15.
Their names are as follows: Helen Brewer, Lyndsay Burtonshaw, Nathan Clack, Laura Clayson, Melanie Evans, Joseph McGahan, Benjamin Smoke, Jyotsna Ram, Nicholas Sigsworth, Melanie Strickland, Alistair Tamlit, Edward Thacker, Emma Hughes, May McKeith and Ruth Potts.
Their brave action has further highlighted the cruel systematic practice of nighttime state kidnappings of many thousands of people, whose deportations go unnoticed to the public.
Some are effectively returned to lands where they will be tortured, trafficked, abused or even killed. Even for those who won't meet such a horrific reception, why should they be forcibly removed from a place they now know as home, simply because they hold the "wrong" passport?
|This violence is increasingly mobilised and structured through the prism of counter-terrorism|
The Stansted 15 summed it up perfectly in their statement:
"Justice will not be done until we are exonerated and the Home Office is held to account for the danger it puts people in every single day. It endangers people in dawn raids on their homes, at detention centres and on these brutal flights. The system is out of control. It is unfair, unjust and unlawful and it must be stopped."
You can support #Stansted15 by donating to the appeal fund.
Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.
Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.