Human rights: detention, sanctuary and the Stansted 15 verdict

Diana Page writes

The ‘hostile atmosphere’ to immigrants, introduced by the present Prime Minister when she was Home Secretary, extends to asylum seekers. The UK keeps asylum seekers in detention centres for an indeterminate length of time, at the end of which they are frequently flown back to countries where they are at risk of torture or execution. It’s an inhumane  policy of dubious legality.

The Stansted 15 – photo by Kristian Buus for Amnesty International

To combat this policy, British Quakers issued a Sanctuary Everywhere Manifesto to “campaign for change to the asylum process so that it is built on a culture of compassion and practical response, rather than starting from an assumption of disbelief.”

Bath Quaker Meeting is one of many throughout the country that has decided to become a Sanctuary Meeting.

On 28 March 2017, at Stansted Airport, 15 protestors, wearing bright pink high- viz clothing, locked themselves together and surrounded a plane chartered by the Home Office to take people from UK detention centres to Africa. Several of the intended passengers believed themselves to be in danger of torture or death if they went back to their home countries. The protestors recognised that they were breaking the law but did not anticipate that they would be charged under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act (1990), an act passed after the Lockerbie bombing and designed to deal with terrorism in ports and airports. After a trial lasting 9 weeks, all 15 protestors have been found guilty, granted bail and return to the Court in February, to be sentenced. They face the possibility of life imprisonment. One of the defendants, Lyndsey Burtonshaw, is an attender at Brighton Quaker Meeting.

The fact that an act of Parliament designed to deal with terrorists has been used against peaceful protestors is a matter of serious concern for all of us. The potential punishment is totally disproportionate for those who have neither intended nor performed any form of act that would endanger anyone.

The decision to break the law was taken to draw attention to a policy that, in itself, is challenged legally, is inhumane and is far from transparent. Most of the flights take place at night. The severity of the punishment will almost certainly deter those who would use civil disobedience to draw attention to and to oppose immoral government policies. Peaceful protest is an important and integral part of democracy and may be the only way to change an unjust situation.

Where morality and legality collide, Quakers have shown throughout their history that they are guided by morality. We do not break the law casually or trivially; in this case, the government’s actions directly conflict with our belief in the equality of all human beings and recognising that of God in every human being.

You are asked to hold all 15 defendants in the light. Those who have the time are asked to consider writing to your MP, to the Secretary of State for Justice and to the Home Secretary, asking for this policy to be changed; a model letter will be available for those who would appreciate guidance.

 

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