The four migrants accused of "conspiracy to commit violent disorder" during the Harmondsworth uprising in 2006 were today found not guilty. Relying on a clearly insufficiently indoctrinated jury, the attempt to single out and punish few individuals with violent criminal convictions and long sentences has been thwarted. Of course, all four have already served one year and three months in prison, on top of varying times in immigration detention. Now they will have to resume their struggle against the immigration system, which imprisoned them for seeking refuge in the first place, and will most probably be dispersed around Britain's detention estate until their cases are 'resolved'.Today the Support the Harmondsworth Four Campaign held a protest outside Sodexho's London headquarters. There had been a solidarity protest outside the court every Monday [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5].
Background: letter from two of the Harmondsworth 4 to Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! | 'Report of the Investigation into the disturbances at Harmondsworth and Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centres', Robert Whalley | Chief Inspectors of Prison Report on Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre
On 28 November 2006 detainees at Harmondsworth immigration prison spontaneously protested against conditions inside the centre and their treatment by the guards. The centre was severely damaged and the detainees were moved to other detention centres and prisons. Prison riot squads were drafted in to quell the protest. About 50 detainees were left in a cold courtyard all night and others were locked in their rooms even though parts of the detention centre were on fire. Five men were charged, although one has been declared unfit for trial and is currently in a psychiatric institution.
Scapegoats for detention system
The uprising clearly involved hundreds of detainees protesting spontaneously against their imprisonment, triggered by TV coverage of the damning report on Harmondsworth by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Yet only five men have been scapegoated, to save any more in-depth investigation into the centre. The prosecution has therefore tried hard to twist the evidence to 'prove' that these men had been planning the uprising for weeks. This is a politically motivated attempt to both deflect attention away from the conditions inside detention, and to deter other detainees from taking similar action. But, inevitably, the jury could not avoid hearing a great deal of the detainees' complaints about the conditions in the centre, and their loud and frequent demands for freedom, justice, and an end to immigration detention. The judge, however, advised the jury not to take into account either any sympathies they might have for the defendants or their own views on the immigration system, claiming that this was 'not a political trial'.
This is not an isolated incident. In 1998 the trial of nine asylum seekers charged with riot and violent disorder at Campsfield immigration prison near Oxford in August 1997 collapsed after it was clear the prosecution witnesses were inventing their evidence. In 2002 the newly-opened Yarls Wood immigration prison was wrecked and half the centre burned to the ground. Two men out of eleven charged were convicted of violent disorder. In 2006 detainees at Harmondsworth 'severe disturbance' at Harmondsworth following the death of detainee Serey Baranyuk. In 2006 detainees from Colnbrook immigration prison were on mass hunger strike, as were detainees from Yarl's Wood in 2005. In 2007 there were repeated revolts and protests in and even escapes from Campsfield. In addition there have been many smaller-scale protests and hunger strikes. Trials like these are part of an attempt hide and deter the continuous resistance against immigration prisons.
So while four individuals are scapegoated for the 'crime' of collective resistance, the injustice of immigration detention goes unchallenged. The UK Government intends to increase the capacity of immigration prisons to 4000, after inheriting 700 from the conservative government. In July they announced their plans to extend Harmondsworth and to build a new immigration prison, Brook House, at Gatwick airport. And using private companies who profit from the misery of imprisonment to run the centres has become the method of choice. Harmondsworth immigration prison is run by Kalyx, a subsidiary of Sodexho. Kalyx has an eight year £180 million contract to run Harmondsworth. They also operate prisons in the UK - HMP Forest Bank, Salford, HMP Bronzefield, Ashford, Middlesex and HMP Peterborough. In December 2006, the company was fined over £5 million for unspecified 'performance failures'.