FIFTEEN protesters who locked themselves around a plane at Stansted Airport, successfully stopping those aboard from being deported back to countries where they faced torture or death, have been convicted of ‘terrorism offences’.
These are the first activists involved in a non-violent direct action protest to be convicted under such laws. One of the activists, Benjamin Smoke, 27, of London, 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.’
The protesters had secured themselves around the nose-wheel and wing of the Boeing 767, which was due to transport people for repatriation to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. They locked themselves together with pipes and foam, having cut a 1m by 1m hole in the perimeter fence.
Amnesty International’s UK director Kate Allen described the verdicts as a ‘crushing blow for human rights in the UK’. She said: ‘The terrorism-related charge against these individuals was always a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It’s deeply disturbing that peaceful protesters who caused disruption but at no time caused harm to anyone, should now be facing a possible lengthy prison sentence. This whole case will send a shiver down the spine of anyone who cares about the right to protest in our country.’
Benjamin Smoke said: ‘We were charged with endangering life but we took the actions at Stansted to try to protect life. That point needs to keep on being put into the spotlight. As a result of what we did, 11 people who were on that flight are still in the UK appealing against their removals. That’s something for us to hold on to.
‘Our convictions today represent an unprecedented crackdown on the right to protest. This fight is about seeing people as people not as collateral damage of the Home Office’s policies. Today is a dark, dark day for the right to protest in a non-violent way.’