Mel Strickland is one of 15 activists that blocked a government deportation flight chartered to transport people for repatriation to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone .
The activists were charged and convicted under repressive “antiterror” legislation, and could face years in prison. CAAT stands in solidarity with the activists as they appeal the appalling verdict. Mel has also taken action on environmental issues and against the DSEI arms fair.
I was part of a group that successfully stopped a charter flight at Stansted airport in March 2017 through peaceful means. We were deeply concerned about secret charter flights that take place in the middle of the night from Stansted airport. On these flights, people are deported en masse to countries where commercial flights don’t often go.
In our case, the destination was Nigeria and Ghana. The charter airline used is Titan Airways. Titan markets its services to the military, but it also flies families to Lapland to see Santa at Christmas time, which makes a shocking contrast.
We knew the stories of some of the people meant to be on the plane through the blog Detained Voices. They included a man whose family had been killed in Nigeria, who pleaded that he would not be able to survive because of “fighting over the land” – a possible reference to the Boko Haram conflict in Nigeria. The stories all spoke of the horrific conditions inside detention centres.
Subsequently we found out by freedom of information request, that 11 of the 60 people meant to be deported that night remain in the UK. They include trafficking survivors, parents of dependent children and people who have claimed asylum.
In taking action, our goal was to assist people in danger by ensuring that flight didn’t take off so that detained people would have more time to lodge legal papers to challenge their deportation. We also wanted to expose brutal nature of the deportation process, especially charter flights.
We were successful, but that success came with a twist. Initially the Stansted 15 were charged with aggravated trespass, but some 4 months later the charge was ramped up to endangering safety at airports, a terror-related charge.
The Crown Prosecution Service never explained why the charge was changed and the Attorney General similarly refused to give reasons. Following a 10 week trial and an overtly biased summing up by the judge, we were convicted of the terror charge. The verdict fell on 10 December 2018, International Human Rights day.
The charge and conviction represent an authoritarian and cynical move by the state to intimidate people who protest its exploitative and life-threatening policies, whether that’s in relation to fracking, deportations, or creeping militarisation.
We must insist on the right to protest by united, vocal and organised opposition to inappropriate charges and excessively punitive sentences. The Stansted 15 have already submitted an appeal and will not stop fighting until we have cleared our names and the Government ends its brutal charter flights practice.
You can follow the campaign on Twitter on @Enddeportations and find out more at Enddeportations.com.