Last week Ewan McGregor lambasted Britain's "nanny state" following a motorbike journey across Africa with fellow actor and best friend Charley Boorman. The journey was filmed and will be shown as a series called the Long Way Down starting tonight.
"Our trip opened my eyes to how insane the rules are in Britain - CCTV cameras everywhere, congestion charge - a ludicrous nanny state. If anything drives me out of the country it will be that - not tax, I don't earn enough." Referring to a boat stunt performed in 2005 by Daniel Craig when was unveiled as the new James Bond (he was made to wear a life jacket) "Today, health and safety are out of control. In Africa, garage attendants smoked as they filled the bikes. I took great pleasure in that."
Yes there are plenty of things that seriously irritate me about life in modern Britain but I would prefer the risk averse to smoking at petrol stations! However, two recent news items put the nanny state issues into perspective:
Last week Alisher Saipov , an ethnic Uzbek, was gunned down outside his office in Osh, a town in southern Kyrgyzstan on the Uzbekistan border.
Saipov had just left his office after working late on Wednesday and was speaking on his mobile phone when a man stepped out of the shadows and shot him in the leg. The hitman fired two more bullets into Saipov’s head before fleeing. After his murder, officers from Kyrgyz security services seized computers, phones and documents from his office containing details of opposition figures and their efforts to topple the regime of Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s president.
His murder has sent shockwaves through Uzbekistan’s opposition whoe fear that the Kyrgyz security services will pass on those details to their Uzbek counterparts, exposing dozens of opposition activists and their sympathisers in Uzbekistan. Human rights groups say they could face arrest and torture at the hands of a regime that has an appalling human rights record.
Shahida Tulaganova, an Uzbek journalist and close friend of Saipov, was due to meet him on the day he was killed. She has no doubt who was behind the murder. “All his life he was fighting against this regime. No one else was interested in killing him,” Tulaganova was worried about the seized documents falling into the wrong hands. “The people in the local security services are corrupt and some of them are on the payroll of the Uzbek KGB. All the details about the network of opposition people in Uzbekistan were in his office. Now all those people could be compromised.”
It was Saipov’s reporting of the aftermath of the Andijan crackdown, when hundreds of protesters were shot dead by troops in May 2005, that provoked the fury of the Tashkent regime. Saipov was the first to reveal how Uzbek agents had crossed into Kyrgyzstan to kidnap refugees fleeing the massacre.
“On the morning of Thursday 18 October, 2007, three masked men shot Majid Hamidi, a 48-year old grocery worker and labour activist in Sanandaj, Iran, seven times in his arm, shoulder and neck. Hamidi was eventually taken to Tehran for specialist surgery and remains in critical condition. Iranian labour activists are convinced that armed attacks of this type are done with the knowledge and support of the government. Already Iranian labour activists face jail, beatings, and other forms of persecution, including the jailing of labour leaders Mahmoud Salehi, Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, as well as the severe repression of strikers at the state-owned Haft Tapeh sugar cane company. But this represents a considerable escalation. Iran is a member of the International Labour Organization and we call upon the ILO to press the government in Tehran to stop these attacks immediately”
In the case of Uzbekistan The USA could have chosen it’s allies in the war on terror more wisely than Islom Karimov, a soviet dinosaur who has been president of the country since independence. He has presided over an atrocious human rights record (The US military leased an airbase in Uzbekistan for combat and humanitarian missions from 2001-2005 when they were summarily evicted). Similarly, fellow leftists who will blithely support a nation on the basis of its anti-Americanism should be appalled at such attacks on trade unionists.
As for this nanny state? Despite issues over CCTV, ID cards etc, I feel far happier to be a citizen of this country. At least I know I will not be shot for dissent or trade union activities. If that means wearing a lifejacket while on a riverboat then I can live with that!