HOW I WAS DEPORTED FROM BRITAIN
© Ralph Schoenman
I came to Great Britain in 1958 to study at the London School of Economics where I took an M.Sc. Econ. degree in 1960. In 1960 I became associated with Bertrand Russell and also started the Committee of 100. During this period my visa was renewed annually.
After my imprisonment with other leaders of the Committee of 100 my visa was extended on the condition that I did not publicly incite to civil disobedience. With reluctance I agreed to this condition as my work with Bertrand Russell took priority over my distaste in signing this undertaking.
Some years later I was at a legal and peaceful demonstration in Grosvenor Square protesting U.S. policy in Vietnam. As the demonstration was ending and the people involved were leaving, policemen manhandled a young man in the middle of the street. One officer walked over the young man's body and deliberately stamped on his fingers and then his whole hand. Many witnessed this. I walked over to take the officer's number. Upon walking back, two officers began to follow me telling me to move on. I was walking rapidly in the midst of others. We were a good hundred yards away from Grosvenor Square and the scene of the demonstration. I was arrested for refusing to move on or obstructing a police officer. This was fabrication and witnessed by many who so testified. I was fined. I mention this as it has, belatedly, been referred to by the Home Secretary. It is important to note that my visa was twice renewed after this arrest without any difficulty.
In 1967 the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation decided to send a commission of investigation to Bolivia to observe the trial of the young French marxist intellectual Regis Debray. Our purpose was to obtain evidence as to his treatment, the conduct of the trial and the extent to which the civil liberties of the accused were respected.
After spending five months in Bolivia I had prepared a report reflecting the work of our Commission. We had acquired evidence establishing that Debray had been tortured by the military and that members of the military tribunal trying him were involved in this as they were in the torture and murder of material witnesses. Their involvement embraced knowledge and approval of the orders and, in particular instances, collusion in the torture and murder of material witnesses. I offered the report, which was documented, as an "offer of proof" which would establish the innocence of Debray. Upon requesting permission to present evidence I was arrested and detained with guerrillas under detention in Camiri, Choreti and, later, in the Army Command head-quarters in La Paz.
I should mention that my British visa was due for renewal in September and that my American passport was also due for renewal. Contrary to false press reports, my passport was in good order and was officially renewed for two years ending in 1969. This renewal took place at the United States Consulate in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It was signed by the U.S. Consul. Under these circumstances, there was no reason to think that my visa would not be renewed as it had been for nine years previous.
Upon my arrest in Bolivia, my passport and other personal effects were confiscated by the Bolivian military. The arrest occurred in the presence of some fifty journalists from most parts of the world. Many protested to the authorities, including the correspondent of Reuters. Two American journalists were expelled from Camiri as a consequence. After my detention the Bolivian military stated that I had been sent out of the country. This was untrue. I was detained in a small cell, approximately three feet wide and four feet long, without ventilation. It was only after my escape that I was able to make known my continued presence in Bolivia. After my recapture and renewed detention, some thirty members of Parliament cabled the Bolivian President, Rene Barrientos, demanding that I should be allowed to return to Britain.
In fact, the Bolivian Government finally turned over my passport and other personal possessions to the American Government. In the company of armed men I was expelled to Lima where Peruvian police took over. I was so detained until landing in Miami, Florida. In Miami I was informed that my passport had been confiscated because I had travelled on an earlier occasion to North Vietnam.
I made a trip to New York and contacted my lawyer, Leonard Boudin, chief counsel of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. Boudin told me that the Government had acted arbitrarily and in violation of their own established procedures. These procedures required a formal hearing with right to appeal against its decision before a passport could be revoked. Apart from this procedural illegality, there was the issue of principle had the U.S. Government the right to deny travel facilities to those who went to countries disliked by the State Department? Could the right to travel depend upon holding acceptable views? Boudin was confident that my case embodied several issues on which the courts would have to pronounce and advised me that my passport would be recovered in short order.
It is very important to emphasise that at this time there was no ban whatever on my return to Britain. On the contrary, thirty M.P.s had demanded that my right to return should be respected by the Bolivian authorities. I could easily have flown to Britain carrying a travel document affirming that my passport was in litigation for the time being. Boudin suggested however, that I simply inform the Home Office that my passport was in litigation and that I intended to return. Although this did allow the possibility that the Home Office would take the proffered opportunity to say no, both Boudin and Blanche Lucas, my British lawyer, felt this to be unlikely. in particular as my passport was expected to be recovered shortly it was felt that I should not force the issue beforehand.
In this sense I played it by "their rules". I did not fly to London. I did not enter, though this was easy enough, through a "back door". Rather than offer any conceivable ground for complaint, I formally applied for entry through my British lawyer who contacted the Home Secretary. There was no reply for almost four months despite repeated requests by Mrs. Lucas for such a reply. Let me point out that I had lived for nearly ten years in Britain. My apartment was in London and contained my personal effects. I am a trustee of a registered charity, the Atlantic Peace Foundation, a director of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, Current Events Documentary Films Ltd., and then-Chairman of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. My livelihood and residence were in Britain. Yet, without explanation, I was denied any answer to my request to return for a period of four months.
During this period, I acquired a travel document such as thousands of students and people in professional work use. Greeks or South Africans studying or working abroad find themselves without the ability to renew their passports because of Governmental hostility. They obtain travel documents. My travel document was issued in New York. It was certified by the clerk to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New York State and by the Secretary of State of the State of New York. It had the State seal and my birth certificate attached and it was notarised. It was disgustingly official!
Upon obtaining it, I travelled to Copenhagen to attend the Danish session of the International War Crimes Tribunal of which I was Secretary-General. I had no reason to think I would be denied entry to Denmark. The tribunal had been officially allowed. All our eminent people had obtained entry such as Sartre, Carmichael, de Beauvoir, Peter Weiss, etc. Moreover, our witnesses from the liberated zones of Laos travelling on documents issued by the Pathet Lao were admitted without difficulty. The witnesses from the liberated zones of South Vietnam, travelling on documents issued by the National Liberation Front, were admitted. Wilfred Burchett, the Australian journalist, travelling on a travel document issued in Hanoi, was admitted. Yet, upon arrival, although met by members of the tribunal secretariat, I was forced on the plane going to Amsterdam. This occurred after feverish consultations with the Danish Minister of the Interior. They did not deny that my document was in good order and established my identity.
In Amsterdam, I decided to travel to Stockholm pending the effort in Copenhagen to reverse the decision taken by the Danish Minister. I boarded a plane to Stockholm with a twenty-minute stopover in Helsinki. I had no intention of entering Finland. Nonetheless, I was forcibly removed from the plane and taken in a police car to a cell in Helsinki where I was denied telephonic contact with a lawyer or my friends. I was interrogated. I insisted that I had a ticket onward to Stockholm and had against my will been taken into Helsinki. This was to no avail. The officer-in-charge was, appropriately enough, named Kafka. In the morning I was forced on a plane to Amsterdam. It stopped in Hamburg. I entered Germany without difficulty. Later, I sought to fly to Stockholm but was removed from the plane and forced to fly to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, I was told that I could not continue to Stockholm unless I obtained in advance the approval of the Swedish immigration authorities.
I then telephoned my Swedish lawyer, Hans-Joran Franck, who is the Chairman of Swedish Amnesty International. Franck obtained the official decision from the immigration authorities to admit me. The Swedish officials telexed the Dutch authorities informing them that I could enter Sweden. Only with this information did the Dutch admit me to the flight for Stockholm.
On landing in Stockholm, I was met by Franck, the press and many people. I was arrested and not admitted despite the protest on the spot of Franck and others. I was held for twenty-four hours while the aliens commission ruled. The next day, before the ruling and without contact with Franck, I was told I had to go on a plane to Amsterdam. Franck called, however, beforehand. He told the police commissioner that the Aliens Commission had not yet ruled and that the police commissioner had not presented his grounds of arrest but had, instead, spent the day at the U.S. Embassy. Franck urged me not to leave before he could see me. Unfortunately, the police simply jumped me and in the process of forcing me into a car fractured my sternum and dislocated my thumb.
Upon forcing me on to a plane with two large Swedish policemen, the plane was promptly obliged to empty its passengers as a call came through stating that a bomb was on it.
The next morning we were again on the way to Amsterdam without sight of lawyer. In Copenhagen we were refused the right to go to the transit lounge. In Dusseldorf we were returned to Copenhagen. In Copenhagen we were turned back to Stockholm from where we were returned to Copenhagen before being placed on a non-stop flight to New York.
This pathetic knuckling-under to State Department pressure caused some indignation in Sweden. After three weeks the Swedish Social-Democratic members of Parliament obliged the Prime Minister to acknowledge an error. A visa was promptly issued to me and I was invited to speak at all the major Swedish universities.
Meanwhile, my request to the Home Office for entry went unanswered and the enquiries of my lawyer received no reply as well. In March the Home Office said that I could not enter Britain without a passport. This was the explicit ground given to my lawyer for my not being permitted entry. On March 22 I received my passport from the U.S. State Department following a court order obliging the State Department to do so. This passport ruling was accompanied by a decision denying the State Department the right to refuse or revoke passports to those who travelled in previously proscribed areas, a considerable victory.
No sooner was the passport returned and the request made by my lawyer for entry than the Home Secretary reversed himself and said that my entry would not be allowed despite the passport which is valid for five years, without restrictions of any kind.
Mrs. Lucas contacted the Home Office to point out that they had first delayed four months before replying, then objected to my entry to Britain on the ground that I lacked a passport, only to remove the cited ground upon my receipt of the passport. She pointed out that I had lived ten years in Britain, maintained a residence, was cut off from my normal employment, denied access to Bertrand Russell and all without an explanation, a formal hearing or precise grounds cited for this decision.
Michael Foot visited James Callaghan to ask him to change his decision and was refused again without specific grounds cited for the refusal.
In short, every available procedure was tried by me for eight months. Ten years' residence was ended without even an opportunity to sell my possessions if I so intended or to see the people with whom I had worked for this period. No due process or hearing was to be permitted. Yet, James Callaghan had the audacity to complain that I entered Britain in June, 1968, simply to embarrass the Government instead of making an approach to the Government for entry.
I entered Britain in June for the purpose of stating my case so that the awareness of the arbitrary exercise of political prejudice by the Home Secretary would affect opinion. Amnesty International and the National Council for Civil Liberties in the persons of Martin Ennals and Tony Smythe took up the case.
When I was apprehended after visiting the former foreign secretary of another country, apparently under surveillance, I was held without habeas corpus allowed or any hearing as to my status. I was deported summarily. No effort was made to establish that I had entered illegally nor was this established. No right of appeal against this deportation was permitted. My lawyer was not allowed to see me the morning of the deportation and it was done at 5 a.m. precisely because it was known that the lawyer had applied for habeas corpus and a hearing that same morning -but four hours later.
Several Members of Parliament, led by Mrs. Joan Lester, raised the matter in the House on the ground that a ten-year resident was deported without a hearing or the opportunity to be represented by a lawyer in a proceeding.
It is significant to cite a precedent which affects the issue directly. Major Lloyd George, M.P., speaking in Parliament on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, with reference to deportation cases under the Aliens Order, said
"The European Convention on. Establishment to which the United Kingdom recently became a party, provides that except where imperative considerations of national security require, a national who has been lawfully residing for more than two years in the territory of any other party shall not be expelled without first being allowed to submit reasons against his expulsion and to appeal to and be represented for the purpose before a competent authority or a person or persons specially designated by the competent authority.
"Although the Convention expresses only the agreement of the members of the Council of Europe who have signed it, it seems right that the safeguards for which it provides against arbitrary expulsion should be made available to aliens in general and not merely to the nationals of member States."
(Extract from Hansard, House of Commons, 1955-56. Volume 557, Written Answers, August 2, Columns 174, 175.)
It is obvious that even on formal grounds the Home Secretary has violated established agreements to which Britain has adhered which protect individuals of long term residence against punitive and arbitrary decree. The Home Secretary has imposed severe penalty and injury using State power to enforce its particular political prejudice. It is perfectly clear that the Government can penalise anyone, in a comparably arbitrary manner, should its violations in a particular case go unchallenged and uncorrected.
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