Just under two years ago, along with fourteen others, I protested to end barely-legal mass deportation flights. In December last year, we were found guilty under a controversial terror-related act for this demonstration.
Yesterday, we were spared prison. The judge gave the majority of us community service whilst others were awarded suspended sentences. While I feel relieved at the decision, I remain deeply disturbed by the lengths the authorities went to as they attempted to crackdown on our resistance to the brutal deportation regime.
The ten-week trial had profound implications on our lives and was an extremely difficult period for us all. Our lives were put on hold and our freedom was unjustly threatened. Though we were surrounded by support, and buoyed by the huge demonstrations outside court and the home office in support of what we did, we have lived our lives in the shadow of this legal process. As bad as our situation was at least we knew that at some point it would come to an end. This is not the case for the 3000 people being held in immigration removal centres across the UK – the only country in Europe to detain people indefinitely.
Though we’re not facing jail, we have still been found guilty of what we consider to be an essential part of upholding our democratic right to protest. There is no justice in this sentence, we acted in good faith to prevent the illegal removal of individuals from their home – the UK. Being found guilty for this is a shameful demonstration from the Attorney General and the Crown Prosecution Services of how power can be abused. That’s why we will continue to fight for our guilty status to be overturned
Having a terror conviction will seriously impact our lives, but the real disgrace here is the treatment of people who face deportation. Just this week the Home Office has reinstated deportation flights to Jamaica, the first since the Windrush scandal. The 50 people on this flight were removed despite the fact that in the last 48 hours at least 4 of their cases had been overturned. The secretive nature of these deportation flights means that we do not know when they leave. People are forcefully put on these planes and treated deplorably – handcuffed and put in large waist restraints which restrict their breathing. Many are sent to a country that is foreign to them – having lived in the UK for most of their lives.
Last year, the Windrush scandal revealed that at least 11 people out of the hundreds deported died before their cases could be fairly considered and before receiving any compensation. It is the Home Office that is guilty and should be put on trial.
Nearly two years later eleven people who were supposed to be on the flight we grounded remain in the UK; people who feared persecution and death and were being sent to life threatening situations by the Home Office. They were able to remain at home with their families, one of them was able to witness the birth of his daughter. Since our action 3 people have been granted leave to remain and the others remain in the UK whilst their cases are being considered. It is shameful that these people were stripped of their rights to a fair hearing and it took a drastic action like ours to rectify it. How many others like them have been deported by this brutal and secretive system?
The Home Office continues to charter deportation flights and so we must continue to protest against this. Despite the court’s intention to scapegoat us, our sentencing has only inspired more people to take action against mass deportations and the use of draconian laws on protestors. We will continue to fight to end deportations, expose the Home Office’s unfair and dubious actions and uphold our democratic right to hold those in power accountable.
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