(OHCHR) GENEVA (6 February 2019) – UN human rights experts* are urging the UK not to use security and terrorism-related legislation to prosecute peaceful protesters, following the conviction of the so-called Stansted 15, who took action at the airport in south-east England to prevent a deportation flight.
“We are concerned about the application of disproportional charges for what appears to be the exercise of the rights to peaceful and non-violent protest and freedom of expression. It appears that such charges were brought to deter others from taking similar peaceful direct action to defend human rights and in particular the protection of asylum seekers,” the UN experts said.
“We call on the UK Government to refrain from applying security and terrorism-related legislation to prosecute peaceful political protesters and critics of State policy who are engaged in non-violent expression, protest and political advocacy.”
The 15 people — six men and nine women — were convicted in December 2018 under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act. The protesters had cut through the airport’s perimeter fence in March 2017 and secured themselves around the nose wheel and wing of an aircraft which was due to repatriate asylum-seekers to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
All fifteen denied a single charge of intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome. They argued the protest was justified under human rights law and was necessary because of threats to those being deported, particularly to persons who could face imminent danger if forcibly returned on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We express our grave concern that the 15 protesters were prosecuted and convicted under a statute which is primarily concerned with the translation of the State’s international aviation security obligations into national law – offences which are also listed under the 2006 Terrorism Act,” the UN experts said.
“Furthermore, we believe that charging, prosecuting and convicting the 15 protesters under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act fails to take sufficient account of the statutory intent of the law, the mischief it was designed to remedy, and the potential for abuse of these statutory provisions in the circumstances of this case,” the experts added.
“In our letter sent to the UK Government on 1 February, we drew its attention to the importance of the right to peaceful protest and to the danger that the use of terrorism related security legislation as a prosecutorial strategy may impinge on this right,” the experts said.
“We urge the UK Government to take all necessary steps to guarantee the rights of individuals not to be deprived arbitrarily of their liberty and to fair proceedings before an independent and impartial court, as well as their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and to peaceful assembly,” the experts emphasised.
(*) The UN experts: Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (Republic of Korea), Chair-Rapporteur; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. David Kaye (USA), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr.Michel Forst (France), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Ireland), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule (Togo), Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
The Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.