I grew up in a free country: or so at least I thought. I had no fear of arbitrary arrest; I could go anywhere I liked, even to North Korea, when I had the strange desire to do so; I could say anything I liked. At 13, I impertinently heckled my local member of Parliament, a government minister, without even a flicker of fear of the consequences. This freedom was like the air I breathed: it was part of my inheritance; I didn't give it a moment's thought.

It seems I was mistaken. In order to submit to the unelected bureaucrats of the EU, the government has given me a freedom higher and better than the merely political freedom to govern myself democratically that I previously possessed. The government has decided that I was oppressed all along, and it has passed an EU-styled Human Rights Act to release me from my chains.

I've seen some real chains in my time. When I arrived in the Gilbert Islands, in the central Pacific, many of the psychiatric patients in the hospital there had been chained to the walls—for years. When I suggested that they should be released, the keepers told me that it was too dangerous to do so. When I insisted, they told me that they had lost the keys, which was the real reason the patients had been attached to the walls with nine inches of chain, year in, year out.

In a Nigerian prison, I saw a raving lunatic chained to the ground. He was kept in complete isolation. The alternative, however, was gross overcrowding, so perhaps he was fortunate. This was at a time when the Nigerian Civil Liberties organization estimated that 2,000 people a year starved to death in Nigerian prisons. And it was certainly true that, had it not been for a valiant Irish nun in her seventies, who arrived every day at the prison with buckets of food, the prisoners I saw would have had nothing to eat.

As it was, 70 of them were crowded into a room big enough for ten. They were never allowed out; most of them had scabies, and several were dying of TB. Many of them had been held without trial for up to ten years and would never now be tried or released. The release of a few had been ordered by judges, but these fortunate ones could not afford to bribe the jailers to let them out.

Whenever I went to Nigeria, I visited Ken Saro-Wiwa, the writer whom a military tribunal subsequently tried—unjustly, of course—and then brutally hanged. It took five attempts at the noose to kill him.

In Liberia, another West African country, I visited Field Marshal Brigadier-General Prince Y. Johnson. It was advisable to meet him in the morning, I was told, because by the afternoon he was usually high on drugs and drink, and a little free and easy with the Kalashnikov. I had seen the video of him ordering the torture of the trussed-up and naked former Liberian president, Samuel Doe, to extract from him the numbers of his bank accounts in London and Switzerland. The field marshal, swigging a can of Heineken, ordered that Doe's ears be cut off with a kitchen knife—as they were.

In Albania, I met a man who had been sent down to the mines for 15 years for refusing to renounce his religion. Even private prayer was considered a serious offense, as was any attempt to escape the atheist paradise. And if a man did escape, his entire family was punished, down to the children: in other words, the entire population was held hostage. In the Baltic states I met people who, during their childhood, had always slept in all the clothes they possessed, because it was at three in the morning that people were hauled off for deportation to frozen climes—as a tenth of the population was in fact deported.

And what of our human rights? One of the first fruits of the recent legislation was a case brought (at public expense, it goes without saying) by the prime minister's wife, by coincidence an enormously well-paid human-rights lawyer. A mentally subnormal pedophile, who had been convicted of 13 sexual offenses, was released from jail on condition that he not consort with children under the age of 16. This, said the prime minister's wife, was a denial of his human right to free association.

Free at last, free at last, thank Blair Almighty, we're free at last!


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