On 28thMarch 2017, a group of 15 immigration activists successfully stopped a charter deportation flight from Stansted Airport in an act of non-violent protest. Today, the group face the end of their trial and will be sentenced. But after today, we cannot forget that the true crimes are repeatedly committed by the Home Office: their merciless deportations and hostile environment policy.

Following a nine-week trial, the members of the immigration activist group, End Deportations, were found guilty of airport disruption under the 1990 Aviation and Maritime Security Act – a piece of counter-terrorism legislation which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. However, the charge was criticised for being unfair because the judge failed to outline the potential consequences of their actions; this lack of explanation suggests they weren’t in fact putting anyone in danger. 

The linking of the group’s action with a terrorist offence not only undermines the democratic right to peaceful protest, it also shifts the focus away from the Home Office’s ruthless deportations – the unjust act the Stansted 15 activists were campaigning against. The fact that some of the passengers on the flight were legally allowed to remain in the UK highlights the inadequacy of the Home Office. Yet the activists are the criminals? Amnesty have described the conviction as ‘a crushing blow for human rights in the UK’; the government’s actions surrounding immigration should be questioned – and this is what democratic protest allows us to do.

Even after the Windrush scandal, these inhumane deportation flights, which often go unnoticed, are still taking place. This week the Home Office plans to deport 50 immigrants on a chartered flight to Jamaica, many of whom have lived in the UK since they were small children and they themselves now have children here. 

People who were granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK are targeted and torn away from their families, friends and the towns they’ve lived in for years to be ‘taken back’ to countries they have no connections to. At a time when their human rights should be protected, they are forcibly sent to the same places they fled because of violence and trauma – their lives at risk once again.

The Stansted 15 activists succeeded in preventing 11 unwilling passengers from being deported, giving them the chance to appeal for the right to remain in the place they have built a home. We cannot let the compassionate intentions of the activist group be overpowered by their criminal conviction. Their bravery and resilience should be rewarded and remembered, not punished. We must turn our attention to the government’s harsh immigration policy: the hostile environment which forces immigrants to leave the UK and the holding of immigrants in prison-like detention centres. Activists should not have to protest because these deportations should not be happening in the first place. We need a fair immigration system, not one which treats immigrants as criminals and often wrongfully deports them.

Whatever sentence is decided for the Stansted 15 activists today, their prosecution is a threat to human rights. The Home Office must be held accountable for the danger they continue to put immigrants in every day; that’s how justice will be granted, not by sentencing the people trying to end this brutality.