The story of Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat, the Palestinian-Scottish doctor and Palestinian community organizer subjected to political imprisonment, surveillance, and repression by British authorities, is coming to the stage in Edinburgh, Scotland. “From the Heart of the Incident” will premiere at ZOO Southside at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on August 8 and 9, 2022. Tickets are now available online: https://zoofestival.co.uk/programme/art27s-from-the-heart-of-the-incident—/#show-details
The play was created by Art27 Scotland, an art project that examines Article 27 of the Human Rights Act, which discusses the right to participate in cultural life. Robert Rae, the BAFTA award-winning director of the film, worked with Palestinian poet and performer Ghazi Hussein and Irish actress to bring the story of Dr. Issam’s struggle for justice to the stage. The play will be performed in Arabic with English subtitles.
Rae, the Irish Times reported, was inspired to create the play after meeting with Dr. Issam and learning about his story of being entrapped by an MI5 agent, held as a political prisoner in Maghaberry prison in the north of Ireland for 16 months, and finally released on bail — subjected to heavy and restrictive conditions — after suffering a heart attack inside British prison. He and his fellow defendants have still not been brought to trial.
The play is expected to tour through the north of Ireland and elsewhere after the Edinburgh premiere.
Get your tickets here: https://zoofestival.co.uk/programme/art27s-from-the-heart-of-the-incident—/#show-details
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network reiterate our solidarity with Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat and demand the dropping of all charges against him and the reinstatement of his medical license.
Who is Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat?
Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat is a Palestinian Scottish doctor facing persecution by the British state. He has been targeted for his commitment to international solidarity and as a political means of repressing both the Palestinian and Irish movements. He was held in British prisons for nearly 16 months and was released on bail, under heavy conditions, on 13 December 2021 after suffering a heart attack behind bars.
Alongside his fellow detainees, the Saoradh 9, he was detained in “Operation Arbacia,” a series of political arrests carried out by British authorities.
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. His bail applications were repeatedly denied before his December 2021 release, despite serious health issues and the damaging effects of incarceration on his and his fellow detainees’ well-being.
Dr. Hijjawi Bassalat, 64, 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.
Infiltration and MI5 Attacks
“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.
Under the emergency laws still in effect in the north of Ireland, his case will be heard by a judge without a jury.
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 was held on remand for nearly 16 months as his health deteriorated and his medical license was suspened.
Dr. Issam’s Health Crisis
Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat, Palestinian political prisoner in British jails and a medical doctor, suffered a heart attack inside Maghaberry prison on 9 October. The first judge to hear his renewed bail application after the heart attack said it was not an indication of “changed circumstances,” despite the risk to his life and well-being. It was not until months later that he finally won release.
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. He already experienced surgery while imprisoned after a hunger strike and repeated protests to spur medical treatment for his injured spine. He did not receive adequate space and time for exercise and physical therapy after his surgery, due to his continued imprisonment.
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.”
Targeting Issam’s Bank Account and Medical License
In addition to his unjust imprisonment, Dr. Hijjawi Bassalat has suffered further injustice. During his detention, his medical care was initially delayed, and then after he finally received necessary surgery, he was denied pain relief and proper therapy. Despite his condition, he continued to be denied bail.
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. As of July 2022, he is appealing against the GMC’s action in Scottish courts.
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.