Evidence is mounting that the authorities are criminalising more areas of peaceful protest.
These protests are UK-wide and include anti-racists, anti-deportation activists and pro-Palestine campaigners.
Protest against mass deportation to Nigeria
An anti-deportation demonstrator involved in a blockade of Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre has been released from prison after serving eight days of a sixteen-day sentence.
Zelda Jeffers, a member of London Catholic Worker, had refused to pay a fine of £450 for her part in the attempt to stop a chartered mass removals flight to Nigeria.
She spoke about the case against her: ‘I said I would not pay the fine and … was told I could get 28 days in prison if I didn’t pay. I said I choose not to pay a fine for an action I consider the least I could do in face of the detention without trial of families and children at Yarl’s Wood and their deportation to possible torture and death. I believe it is a disgrace and possibly illegal. It is a matter of conscience for me.’
The joint charter flight was meant to carry several families to Lagos via Dublin on 30 July. It was delayed for several hours due to deportees’ refusal to board the plane and a blockade by the Stop Deportation Network. Zelda was arrested for ‘obstructing a police officer’ while sitting in the road in an attempt to stop the coaches leaving for the flight.
According to the Stop Deportation Network, twenty people, including three families, were taken from Yarl’s Wood. Others were taken from Dungavel, Dover and Brook House immigration removal centres in the UK, as well as from other European detention centres.
Magistrates rule police action unlawful in earlier case
Zelda Jeffers’ case comes within weeks of a similar one involving a group blockading Colnbrook immigration removal centre near Heathrow airport. In their case, the magistrates ruled that police had acted unlawfully when arresting the six anti-deportation campaigners, who had been trying to prevent Iraqi asylum seekers from being forcibly removed to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq on a specially-chartered flight. All six defendants were found not guilty.
The activists had carried out a five-hour blockade of Colnbrook, where they had encased their arms in glass and plastic tubes attached to concrete barrels. They were subsequently, and unlawfully, arrested under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.
Pro-Palestine campaigners targeted
Meanwhile in Edinburgh, five campaigners, all members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, face trial over their non-violent boycott protest of Israeli state-sponsored cultural ambassadors, and members of the Israeli army, the Jerusalem Quartet. During the 2008 Edinburgh Festival performance by the Quartet, the five campaigners say that they stood up and made statements including ‘End the Siege of Gaza-Boycott Israel!’ Originally charged with breach of the peace, the prosecution has since changed the charge to one which states that their anti-Israel boycott was ‘racially motivated’. Their case has been adjourned until 21 January 2010.
In defence of Gaza
Finally, sixty-nine people, who were arrested during and after the marches in London against the Israeli assault on Gaza, now face prison sentences of up to five years. They are mostly young Muslim men between the ages of 17 and 20, the majority of whom are accused of violent disorder. According to Matt Foot, a solicitor representing four of the defendants interviewed in Socialist Worker: ‘The scale of the charges has not been seen since the poll tax demonstrations. There seems to be a policy of imposing stringent bail conditions on everyone, just on the basis that this was a demonstration about an international issue’.
The kind of criminal charges brought against hunt saboteurs and climate change activists are now being extended to cover a wider constituent of protestors, including these anti-deportation, anti-war and pro-Palestine campaigners.
Read an IRR News story: ‘Pro-Palestinian campaigners arrested after racism allegation’