South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell is one hundred per cent right in his protestations to Secretary of State Owen Patterson in regard to the cases of Marian Price and Gerry McGeough.

Those who suggest that because the SDLP man is diametrically opposed to the politics of both Ms Price and Mr McGeough, he shouldn't demand they be treated fairly, don't understand the very concept of justice being blind.

In fact, the courage to demand equal and fair treatment for those you disagree with underpins the rule of law in any decent society.

In Ms Price's case, the facts are clear. She is being held in effective solitary confinement in a South Belfast detention centre without having being found guilty of any offence in a court of law.

If that happened in North Korea, the Secretary of State's colleagues would be condemning it as internment without trial. Here they nod and wink and point to "intelligence sources", apparently unaware of how sullied that term has come after 30-plus years of our own dirty war.

Ms Price's support for republican militants is not in dispute. However, those in power who bend and break the law in the name of combating dissidents should note that they are only presenting a mirror image of the contempt for the rule of law and due process which the dissidents demonstrate by their armed actions.

In the case of Gerry McGeough, it beggars belief that the soldiers responsible for gunning down 14 civilians in Derry in 1972 face no threat of legal action while he is put in jail for an attack on a UDR man which happened over 30 years ago. Double standards are the same as no standards when it comes to the rule of law.

Mr McGeough should, like Marian Price, be released forthwith.

We would urge the Secretary of State to heed the words of  Pat Ramsey, who accompanied Alasdair McDonnell to his meeting with Owen Patterson: "The SDLP is strongly opposed to the political views held by Marian Price and Gerry McGeough, but we are extremely concerned about the dilution of human and civil rights in each of their cases and are worried that this may be exploited by dissidents in their campaign of terror."