Who is Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat?
Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat is a Palestinian medical doctor who has lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, since 2010. Dr. Hijjawi Bassalat, 62, came to the UK in 1995 to work as a doctor, and he is a well-known, respected member of the Palestinian community in Scotland and the father of four. He previously served as chair of the Association of Palestinian Communities in Scotland (today, the Scottish Palestinian Society) and has been active throughout Europe in advocating for Palestinian rights to return, freedom and justice, speaking frequently at meetings, conferences and events.
Today, Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat is a political prisoner, held in high-security Maghaberry Prison in the north of Ireland. He was targeted by an MI5 infiltrator to attend a bugged meeting with members of Saoradh, an Irish republican socialist political party that advocates for an end to British colonialism and a united Ireland. He was detained on 22 August at Heathrow Airport on the same day that nine members of Saoradh were also arrested by British forces in what was labeled “Operation Arbacia.”
Unjust Bail Refusal amid Worsening Health
Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat has faced increasingly worse health conditions inside Maghaberry Prison. Issam suffers from serious health conditions and is not receiving the treatment he needs; instead, he has suffered from multiple delays that amount to a form of torture, forcing him to suffer in unnecessary pain as his condition worsens. He has experienced back pain and a spinal condition prior to his arrest when he suffered a slipped disc in July. The conditions of his imprisonment have exacerbated his injuries, especially due to the medical neglect of the prison administration.
Despite this situation, Issam has been repeatedly refused bail. Most recently, his bail application was once again refused on 22 December, despite overwhelming evidence of both his severe health situation and the effects of imprisonment upon his medical decline. As noted by Issam’s barrister, Brenda Campbell, QC, “Within the prison system they have really reached the end of the road in terms of trying to make him more comfortable. He requires surgery, he is experiencing muscle wastage as a result of what he is very much concerned about is nerve damage that may be permanent.”
Declining Health and Medical Neglect
He was taken by the prison administration for an MRI on 15 September before being placed in isolation in a run-down location called Foyle House for 14 days. While this was explained as a COVID-19 preventative measure, this means that he was in isolation for four weeks with only a break of a few days in conditions that did not allow him to walk or exercise, which at that time still provided some relief for his condition. His situation was so severe that he launched a hunger strike to get out of isolation that was supported by 50 Irish republican prisoners.
Now, he has been in severe pain for weeks despite taking painkillers and needs crutches to walk, and it is his belief – as a medical doctor – that he will need surgery.
Issam has gone so far as to offer to pay for private surgery and is in touch with a neurosurgeon; however, the prison administration has failed to turn over his medical records, further prolonging his agony. As noted by the Scottish Campaign Against Criminalizing Communities, this failure to provide treatment constitutes a potential breach of the prohibition on torture, inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
MI5 Infiltration and Dubious Charges
The arrests sprang from the decades-long infiltration of Irish republican movements by MI5 agent Dennis McFadden, detailed in a Channel 4 News report (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxszWn367pY). Issam was entrapped into a meeting with McFadden on false pretenses after he was told by British officials that he had to pick up his daughter’s passport renewal in Belfast instead of Glasgow. There, he was invited to what was presented to him as a Saoradh meeting to discuss international solidarity and the Palestinian cause; he had previously spoken to a Saoradh Ard Fheis (annual meeting) about Palestine, an open, public event.
He is charged with “preparatory acts of terrorism” under the 2006 Terrorism Act, based on his attendance at this meeting engineered by MI5. Issam’s solicitor, Gavin Booth, has seen the transcript of the meeting Issam was compelled to attend, noting that “Everything that’s contained within the transcripts and the recordings is about Palestine, is about peaceful and democratic change. There’s nothing in the transcripts from Dr Bassalat that would support violence in any way.” Despite these facts and the presumption of innocence that is supposed to apply, he has been denied bail on two occasions and is being held on remand.
Targeting Issam’s Bank Account and Medical License
This is not the only form of mistreatment Issam has suffered. His bank account was frozen, denying him access to funds and creating even more inconvenience and trauma for his family — again, all while he ostensibly retains the presumption of innocence. Issam’s licence to practise medicine was suspended by the General Medical Council (GMC) on 26 October 2020 after the charges filed against him, despite the fact that he has been convicted of nothing and that the charges in no way relate to his fitness to practise medicine or his treatment of his patients.
Issam is being targeted as a Palestinian in an attempt to justify the MI5 infiltration of public political parties and to smear both the Palestinian and Irish struggles through entrapment and misrepresentation. As a result, this Palestinian doctor who has given so much to his community in Edinburgh as well as the broader Palestinian community is facing worsening pain and the atrophy of his leg on a daily basis, while the presumption of innocence is being cast aside for political gamesmanship. We urge the immediate release of Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat and the provision of the medical care he so desperately needs.