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If the Government can just reach out and ruin a man’s life, without any need of a fair hearing or a guilty verdict, then we do not live in a free country. This is what has just happened to the video blogger Graham Phillips (above)

Peter Hitchens – Mail Online July 30, 2022

Today I need to defend a person I do not much like. I will explain why I do not like him in a moment, but that is not the important bit.

What matters is this: if the Government can just reach out and ruin a man’s life, without any need of a fair hearing or a guilty verdict, then we do not live in a free country. This is what has just happened to the video blogger Graham Phillips.

The danger is that, because Mr Phillips is so hard to like, the Government will get away with it. And then, when it uses the same powers on somebody else, it will be too late to protest.

As the great US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once said: ‘The safeguards of liberty have frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people.’

Some of Mr Phillips’s activities have been questionable, though he firmly denies many of the charges against him. For me, his worst action was his cruel and stupid questioning of a badly wounded Ukrainian prisoner of war. Others have condemned his interview of Aiden Aslin, a British citizen who had been fighting with Ukrainian armed forces and was captured by the Russians.

It has been suggested that the interview was a breach of the Geneva Conventions. Mr Phillips, contacted in Lugansk, says Mr Aslin asked for the interview himself, has never complained, and has given several other interviews since.

Be that as it may, last week Mr Phillips was placed on the UK Government’s sanctions list. The Foreign Office, which is in charge of this process, no longer answers the phone, and replies only once to emails, with bland official statements, so I do not have some of the details that I would like to have.

But as far as I know, he is the first British citizen to be treated in this way. His assets have been frozen. His bank accounts are blocked. He also cannot pay those to whom he owes money.

For example, his home insurance has now been cancelled because his insurers are forbidden to accept his premiums. All his bills will now bounce, the utilities at his London home will soon be cut off. He cannot even pay his council tax. He will face incessant claims for debts, which he can do nothing about.

As he says: ‘How can I pay these debts when I don’t have access to funds? If it goes to court, how can I defend myself when I won’t be able to pay for legal representation? Actually, how will I even find the money to travel to the court without money, or even feed myself?’ Franz Kafka, the great Czech author of The Trial, a classic about oppression, could not have invented a legal mantrap as inescapable as this.

Leading British lawyers have accurately described the objects of this action as ‘prisoners of the state’. Very well, you may say, this is how we must act against money-launderers and terrorists abroad.

You might equally well say that such powers could be used against officials of the Russian government, or officers in the Syrian Army. And if you look at the list of people treated in this way under the Sanctions and Money Laundering Act of 2018, that is who you will find.

Of course, none of these people is a former UK civil servant with a British passport, as Mr Phillips is. As long as they stay out of our reach, the sanctions are just an inconvenience to most of those placed under them.

But for Mr Phillips, they mean actual ruin. Whatever you think of him, is this a proper use of state power? Is it allowed by Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights, let alone by the ‘human rights’ the Foreign Office claims to be so fond of?

The official declaration says Mr Phillips is being sanctioned because he is ‘a video blogger who has produced and published media content that supports and promotes actions and policies which destabilise Ukraine and undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty, or independence of Ukraine’.

Well, so what? None of these actions is or ought to be a crime under British law. These are catch-all charges, of the sort Stalin used in his show trials in the 1930s. Any protest against or criticism of a foreign state (or our own) could be said to do these things.

Lots of us have pretty critical views of the way various foreign countries behave, and of our own government.

Britain is not, in fact, at war with Russia. So there is no legal duty on any of us to support that war or refrain from saying things which upset the Kiev government.

This is the dictatorial use of arbitrary power by the State against an individual it does not like. It is a straightforward outrage against the rule of law. If the Government gets away with it, who will be next?

If we do not protest against it now, and stop it, then we should shut up forever about being a free country or fighting for freedom elsewhere.