13:06, February 06 56 0 theguardian.com

2019-02-06 13:06:15
We in the Stansted 15 have been treated like terrorists

Along with 14 other peaceful protesters, I was found guilty of a controversial terror-related offence in December after stopping a mass deportation flight from taking off. On Wednesday, we avoided prison.

The judge awarded most of us community service, and three of us suspended sentences. We could have been given life in jail, and I’m so relieved that hasn’t happened. But I’m also angry. We might not be going to prison, but we’ve still been found guilty of a crime we clearly did not commit. We are a group of peaceful protesters, but the state has convicted us of a terror-related offence. This was done without any transparency by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and neither the CPS nor the attorney general have explained this decision. It was an abuse of power that never should have happened.

This is why we have already lodged our appeal. Amnesty International has described our convictions as “a crushing blow for human rights”, and we cannot just accept that and walk away. Clearing our names is an important part of protecting the fundamental rights of everybody in this country to protest free from persecution. The implications of these convictions for our movements and our democracy are too great for us to do nothing.

Having a terror-related conviction will have profound consequences for the rest of our lives. It will limit our ability to get work, to travel, and get a mortgage. It will be a mark on our records that we can never escape. What’s more, we know from the botched part-privatisation of the probation service that the huge amounts of unpaid work many of us will have to do as a result of these convictions will be deeply alienating, and unlikely to serve any social good.

Becoming a mother for the first time is a joyous and enrapturing experience, but it is also indescribably intense, emotional and exhausting. Thanks to this trial, my pregnancy was defined by stress and anxiety – and now I face 100 hours of community service at a time when I want to be focusing on spending time with my child.

And yet, however bad things are for us, they are nothing compared with the suffering faced by the people who are forced on to these brutal, secretive, barely legal deportation flights. Those on the flights are often shackled in large waist restraints that make it hard to breathe, and are sent to countries where they face isolation, persecution, destitution or even death.

Last year it was revealed that the government wrongfully deported dozens of people, 11 of whom have now died. It is the Home Office that should be on trial.

On Wednesday morning, the government sent its first chartered deportation flight to Jamaica since the Windrush scandal. The flight contained 35 people, many of whom had come to the UK as children, and who have virtually no relationship with Jamaica. Many will be separated from their children. There are 11 people still in the UK because we stopped a charter deportation flight; three have been given the right to stay, the rest are still having their cases heard. One of those with leave to remain was able to be present for the birth of his daughter. This is why we will never regret the actions we took, whatever the consequences.

Our experiences of being convicted will not stop us from working to end these deportation flights. They have only given us one more thing to fight for: the right of all people to protest against inhumane and cruel government policies without being treated as if we were terrorists.

Emma Hughes is an activist and one of the Stansted 15

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