Solidarity with the Stansted 15!
LONDON Freelance Branch has passed of motion in support of the Stansted 15, a group of activists who were arrested after peacefully locking themselves onto a plane at Stansted Airport, thereby preventing a Titan Airways "deportation flight" taking off with deportees bound for Ghana and Nigeria. Several of the deportees on the flight subsequently won their immigration appeals and now have leave to remain in the UK.
There was a delay of over a year before their trial came to court. During that time, the original relatively minor charge of aggravated trespass was upgraded to Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 offences - "anti-terrorism" charges that potentially have life imprisonment as a penalty.
The Stansted 15 were all found guilty of a terrorism offence - "intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome" in December. Their sentencing hearing is on Wednesday 6 February at Chelmsford Crown Court. The 15 are asking for supporters to gather outside the court on the day.
LFB Treasurer Jenny Vaughan pointed out that the case is of particular concern to journalists, as the use of such anti-terrorist legislation to clamp down on peaceful protest is also likely to impact on journalists carrying out their work.
Anti-terrorism legislation has in recent years been routinely used on photographers - some while they were photographing public buildings or snapping groups of police and Army cadets at local parades. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act was frequently used by police and PCSOs in arbitrary stops and searches of photographers. This led to the mass photography gathering in Trafalgar Square in 2010, called by I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist, a group organised by NUJ freelance photographers. Section 44 was overturned in the European Court of Human Rights earlier that year, in a case brought by current LFB Chair Pennie Quinton.
It is feared that the Stansted 15 case could set a precedent for restricting photography and other forms of journalism around ports and airports. (Let's not forget that Brexit will probably mean a lot of coverage of what's happening around ports!)
Melanie Strickland, one of the Stansted 15, replying to a message of support from LFB, said, " Thanks so much... That really means a lot to us defendants." She added that due to the backlog of cases, the Court of Appeal is unlikely to hear their appeal against conviction before the summer.