Guest post by Niall McCrae
An unremarkable Turkish café-takeaway in London, with its slowly turning rolls of doner lamb and chicken, was a strange setting for the meeting. Graham Phillips, a YouTube journalist, had organised a fund-raising event at a hall in Islington, seeking contributions for a drone and other equipment. He had briefly returned from the Donbas region of Ukraine, where the government was using military force to suppress an alleged separatist movement. This was an untold story in Western mainstream media, and Phillips wanted to do more than basic recordings with his mobile phone. He also wanted to encourage others to come out to Donetsk, where he was based, to see and share the reality.
However, Ukrainian nationalists heard about this, and the hall owner cancelled the booking. A sign on the door redirected people to a nearby pub, where Phillips was intending to use the function room. This too was stopped when the landlord received threats. And so those who remained gathered in the kebab shop. It was a mixed crowd: Eurosceptics, Stop the War activists, Russian emigrants – and possibly MI6. Phillips began his address, showing photographs of dead or injured civilians, but was heckled by a smartly-dressed man shouting: ‘those people are terrorists’. Phillips demanded that he leave, and the two adversaries almost came to fisticuffs until they were separated by my friend and others.
This was back in 2015, when Phillips was already a thorn in the side to the Russophobic establishment. He has spent years with the Donetsk people’s militia, men (and some women) who took up arms against their oppressors, having military experience from conscription in their youth, or defectors from the Ukrainian army.
Phillips earned respect from his hosts for his bravery in reportage, accompanying fighters as bullets whizzed past. He was on the frontline of the Battle of Debaltseve, a vital road and rail junction where government troops were forced to retreat after three weeks of street fighting, with heavy losses on both sides.
When the Kiev government broke the Minsk accords in 2014 and 2015, the West did nothing. It was not until this year that Putin’s patience finally ran out. By then, about fourteen thousand had died in the uneven conflict. Aware of a coming offensive by the heavily armed Ukrainian forces, the Russians moved into the Donbas, supported by the resistance in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.
Phillips, like his American counterpart Patrick Lancaster, filmed the scenes and interviewed citizens which Western media failed to cover. If you took the BBC for the truth, you wouldn’t know that Russian soldiers are treated as saviours by residents of cities such as Mariupol and Sevierodonetsk, Showing the trail of destruction after its retreat, Phillips accused the Ukrainian army of war crimes: civilians who tried to evacuate were beaten by the Azov Battalion who blocked all exit roads with destroyed cars (this video was deleted by YouTube).
Here is video of Graham Phillips in Ukraine discussing his persecution in the UK.
When British mercenary Aiden Aslin was captured and prosecuted by the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, British media cried foul. When Phillips interviewed the prisoner (with his consent) Tory ministers accused him of a war crime. The Geneva Convention, as they should know, does not apply to mercenaries, who are fair game for captors. In July the UK government included Phillips in its sanctions against Russia and perceived accomplices.
By contrast to other enemies of the state, Phillips has had it easy. Unlike Julian Assange and Tommy Robinson, also persecuted for speaking truth to power, he was abroad and untouchable. Instead, Liz Truss’ would-be war office at Westminster froze his assets and blocked his bank account. This is a radical and dangerous development in our political and social history, although it was given limited attention on mainstream media, apart from outspoken Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens.
‘Freedom for all means freedom for nasty people’ was the title of the article, although this would not have been of Hitchens’ choosing. Giving credit where it’s due, Hitchens explained the implications of being deprived of access to a bank account. Phillips cannot pay bills, utility supply to his London home will be cut, bailiffs will be buzzing around, and any damage to his property cannot be repaired. His insurance will be annulled. Phillips, if he wanted to challenge his plight in court, could not pay for the air fare – although that’s probably for the best. If he returned he would surely be arrested at Heathrow and thrown into prison without trial.
On YouTube, Phillips remarked on his extra-judicial punishment, and the bypassing of a system of justice built over centuries on the foundations of Magna Carta, as ‘Kafkaesque’.
As Hitchens noted, Phillips has committed no crime. The government’s justification was that he is ‘a video blogger who has produced and promoted content that supports and promotes actions and policies which destabilise Ukraine and undermine or throttle the territorial integrity, sovereignty, or independence of Ukraine.’ The last three years have woken many of us up to the sobering realisation that the law is an instrument of the state to use against inconvenient people. And if the law doesn’t work, another tool may be found, in this case sanctions against a foreign power. Expect more people to be denied access to their savings, because this is a slippery slope.