Maghaberry Prison must take immediate steps to ensure that Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat receives the medical treatment that he needs.
Dr Bassalat has been awaiting trial since August on a "terrorism" charge that his lawyer says is the result of entrapment. A few weeks prior to his arrest he suffered a disk prolapse. This has for some time been causing severe continuous pain in his right leg. Painkillers no longer provide him with any relief, and he is in any case limited in the painkillers he can take because of another medical condition. The pain is now extreme. Dr Bassalat has great difficulty sleeping, eating, lying down and sitting down. He has great difficulty dressing and using the toilet. He uses crutches to walk.
Having maintained good spirits for many weeks despite the pain, he is now finding the situation increasingly hard to bear. Dr Bassalat almost certainly needs surgery. If the problem continues untreated it is likely to cause him irreversible harm.
Dr Bassalat attended hospital for an MRI scan in September. Apart from painkillers and occasional physiotherapy he has so far received no treatment. This situation cannot continue.
Maghaberry Prison is responsible for Dr Bassalat's welfare. The UN's Revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) states (Rule 27): "all prisons shall ensure prompt access to medical attention in urgent cases."
The prison is required under the Northern Ireland Prison Sevice rules (Rule 88-1) to notify the Department of Justice if "a registered general practitioner or the health care manager believes that a prisoner’s health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued imprisonment, or any conditions of imprisonment." This rule should clearly have been triggered some time ago.
Failure by the prison to provide adequate health care potentially creates a situation that falls within the scope of the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
SACC is asking all our supporters and friends to exert all the pressure they can to demand that Maghaberry Prison takes immediate steps to ensure that Dr Bassalat receives the medical treatment he needs.
What You Can Do
Please do as many or as few of these things as you feel able to. But please do something. Please do it now. And please emphasise that the people you are contacting must act now.
- Contact David Kennedy, the Governor of Maghaberry Prison. You can email him via . Please mark your email for the attention of David Kennedy, Governor of HMP Maghaberry (we know that emails sent in this way will reach him).
- Phone Maghaberry Prison on 028 9261 1888 and ask to speak to David Kennedy. Use your judgment if offered another senior member of staff. You will in any case be told they can't discuss an individual prisoner with you. Ask them to seek Dr Bassalat's permission and then phone you back. Try to make sure that you have conveyed the gist of your concerns before ending the call. Stay polite. The person taking your call may not necessarily be unsympathetic.
- Contact Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long. You can email her via . Please mark your email for the attention of Naomi Long MLA, Minister of Justice (we know that emails sent in this way will reach her). You can also contact her at , but this is not the correct way to do so unless you are a constituent.
- If you live in Nothern Ireland, contact your MLA and ask them to raise the issue with Naomi Long. You can contact your MLA via https://www.writetothem.com/. If you don't live in Northern Ireland, please ask any friends or contacts there to do this.
- If you live in the UK, contact your MP and ask them to raise the issue with Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. You can contact your MP via https://www.writetothem.com/
- If you live outside the UK, contact the British Embassy in your country and ask them to raise these concerns with the UK Government. Emphasise that the UK is potentially in breach of international law.
- Write to Issam! Your letter may take a while to reach him after it reaches the prison, and he may not reply. But a large volume of mail will show the prison that people care about Issam. Best to put your name and address on the envelope (a standard requirement in UK prisons). Address your letter to:
Issam Hijjawi Bassalat, Maghaberry Prison, 17 Old Road ,Lisburn, Co. Antrim, BT28 2NF, UK
Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat is a medical doctor of Palestinian origin who is now settled in Edinburgh. He was arrested in August at Heathrow Airport as a result of what his lawyer calls entrapment during a police and MI5 operation against the New IRA. He is being held on remand in Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland, where he awaits trial on a charge of "terrorism" arising from his attendance at an alleged New IRA meeting.
According to his lawyer, he was "pestered" by a man called Dennis McFadden into attending what he was led to believe would be a public meeting where he was to provide an analysis of the situation in Palestine. Dennis McFadden has now been revealed in court to be an MI5 agent. The meeting that he persuaded Dr Bassalat to attend is alleged to have been a New IRA meeting and was bugged by MI5.
Dr Bassalat's lawyer Gavin Booth has seen the transcripts of the bugged meeting. He believes that if they were made public his client would be vindicated. Speaking to Channel 4 News about Dr Bassalat's contribution to the meeting, he said:
"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."
SACC issued a statement about the arrest of Dr Bassalat on 4 September. It can be read at https://www.sacc.org.uk/press/2020/sacc-statement-arrest-issam-hijjawi
The allegations of entrapment made in connection with Dr Bassalat's arrest were the subject of a Channel 4 News item broadcast on 24 October - https://youtu.b/SxszWn367pY