Issam Hijjawi Bassalat endures heart attack behind bars; bail proceedings remain delayed

Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat, Palestinian political prisoner in British jails and a medical doctor, suffered a heart attack inside Maghaberry prison on 9 October, only days before his most recent scheduled hearing on an application for bail. Despite his increasingly dire medical circumstances, he remains imprisoned. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network urges increased solidarity and action to demand his release.

Alongside his fellow detainees, the Saoradh 9, he was detained in “Operation Arbacia,” a series of political arrests carried out by British authorities based on a years-long infiltration carried out by MI5 agent Dennis McFadden. Today, Dr. Bassalat remains jailed in the Maghaberry high security prison, in the British-occupied north of Ireland.

Dozens of observers and supporters of Dr. Bassalat joined a video link to view the case management hearing only to learn, as reported by Scotland Against Criminalizing Communities:

“Barrister Joe Brolly told the court that Dr Bassalat had been treated for a heart attack and had returned on Tuesday to Maghaberry, where he has been placed in isolation for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of covid. He said that Dr Bassalat was not physically fit to appear at the hearing. After his return to prison on Tuesday, Dr Bassalat spoke to a family member and told them that he was keen to appear at today’s hearing. He also said that he was unhappy with being held in the prison’s isolation unit as the facilities there are poorer than elsewhere in the prison and are likely to hamper his recovery.”

Davy Jordan, an Irish republican political prisoner, issued a statement through the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association, highlighting:

“Dr Issam had to suffer six hours of life-threatening pain as the illegal occupations gaolers debated what to do, some even suggesting to Dr Issam that the unbearable pain that he was so clearly experiencing was a result of the medication that he has been taking.

It is evident that the decision that could have cost Dr Issam’s life and in fact has resulted in some of his very heart muscles dying was being deferred to those whose political bias overrides someone’s very life.”

Rather than ruling on the bail application, the court has now requested reports from hospital doctors before setting a new date for a hearing for Dr. Bassalat. Despite reports that new bail applications are routinely heard, approved or denied on a regular basis, Dr. Bassalat’s latest bail application has faced objections from the prosecution that his circumstances have not changed enough to seek bail again. Now, his dangerous health condition has brought to the forefront a new set of changed circumstances beyond the points already raised by his lawyers.

These delays have added yet more time behind bars to a process in which Dr. Bassalat’s lawyer already declared that the evidence will take him at least 63 weeks to review before a trial could be possible.

As he appealed for human rights groups to address his case, Dr. Bassalat said in a statement that “all the might of the British Government” has been used against him, “a single individual [who] dared to challenge the British historic role in creating the Palestinian plight through the Balfour Declaration and the 30 years of the British Mandate in Palestine ending in al Nakba – the catastrophe of the Palestinians in 1948.”

Under the emergency laws still in effect in the north of Ireland, his case will be heard by a judge without a jury. 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 meeting of Saoradh, an Irish republican political party, to discuss international solidarity and the Palestinian cause. Dr. Bassalat 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.

Dr. Bassalat 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.

Issam Hijjawi Bassalat 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. This case requires attention and action to end the injustice against a Palestinian community leader. We urge the immediate release of Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat and all political prisoners, including the Saoradh 9, detained in British jails.