One year of political imprisonment: Free Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat!

Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat, Palestinian activist in Scotland and a medical doctor, remains a political prisoner alongside his fellow detainees, the Saoradh 9, one year after “Operation Arbacia,” a series of political arrests. Today, he remains jailed in the Maghaberry high security prison, in the British-occupied north of Ireland. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network renews our call for the immediate release of Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat and all political prisoners in British jails.

He was targeted by an MI5 infiltrator, Dennis McFadden, 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. Throughout the past year, his bail applications have been repeatedly denied, despite serious health issues and the damaging effects of incarceration on his and his fellow detainees’ well-being.

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.

“Operation Arbacia” sprang from the decades-long infiltration of Irish republican movements by MI5 agent Dennis McFadden, detailed in a Channel 4 News report. 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 held on remand for a full year.

In addition to his ongoing, unjust imprisonment, pre-trial detention and denied bail, Dr. Hijjawi Bassalat has suffered further injustice. 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. The presumption of innocence is being cast aside for political gamesmanship. We urge the immediate release of Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat and all political prisoners, including the Saoradh 9, detained in British jails.

Video: Channel 4 Report on MI5 Entrapment and Infiltration

Video Webinar on Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat and the Saoradh 9

Statement from Scotland Against Criminalizing Communities:

Operation Arbacia – One Year On

Today marks the first anniversary of the launch of the PSNI/MI5/Garda operation (which also had a little help from Police Scotland) dubbed “Operation Arbacia”. Over the following few days it resulted in the arrest of our friend Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat and nine members of the Saoradh party on charges related to their entrapment by a British informer and MI5 spy, Dennis McFadden.

Issam is a Scottish Palestinian activist. There is no real case against him. Saoradh describes the arrest of its members as an attack on the party. It’s likely to be years before Issam and the Saoradh Nine come to trial. Their continued pre-trial detention amounts to internment by remand. It should be a cause of international outrage.

#FreeIssamHijjawi #FreeTheSaoradh9

Statement from Saoradh:

The Saoradh Nine – One Year Later

Today [August 18th] marks one whole year since the start of “Operation Arbacia”, a joint MI5 and Garda operation which witnessed nine Saoradh members, and a Palestinian activist, taken away from their families, communities and subsequently interned.

The MI5-directed operation was carried out on the sole word of a British informer and MI5 spy, Dennis McFadden, who worked undercover with the purpose of disrupting the legitimate political business of the Revolutionary Republican Party, Saoradh.

Telling the media that they were targeting the IRA, the Crown Forces and Free State Forces raided family homes and party offices across Ireland for days in the clear attempt to deter Saoradh from carrying out the grassroots-based activism for which it is renowned in working class communities across the country.

The nine Saoradh party members along with our comrade, Issam Hijjawi, were all arrested as part of the sinister operation and remain in MI5-directed torture camps Maghaberry and Hydebank to this day.

We would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that they haven’t stopped us and they never will no matter how much they try.

To our 10 comrades, and their families, we pledge our full support as we continue to expose the British imperialist agenda that incarcerates them using internment by remand – ironically 50 years this month since it was reintroduced by the colonial oppressor.

“They tried to bury us — they didn’t know we were seeds”.