Issam Hijjawi has been on hunger strike in Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland since 16 September. He is a Palestinian from Edinburgh and is well known to many of us.
Issam is on remand in Maghaberry after being arrested as a result of what his lawyer calls entrapment.
On admission to Maghaberry he spent 14 days in isolation as a COVID19 prevention measure. Very shortly after leaving isolation he visited an outside hospital for an MRI scan. On return to prison he was put back into isolation, which will last for a further 14 days unless the prison authorities are persuaded to change tack. He will then have spent a total of 28 days in isolation (with a very brief break). This is completely unacceptable.
Issam is on hunger strike in protest at his treatment. 50 Republican prisoners have joined the hunger strike in solidarity with him, and more are likely to do so. Irish Republican organisations around the world have held protests. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network has issued a statement supporting Issam and hosted an excellent webinar about the situation (it can still be viewed on facebook).
Issam is facing a charge of "preparing terrorist acts" as a result of being misled by an undercover agent apparently working for MI5 into speaking at an alleged meeting of the New IRA (the IRA is a proscribed organisation in the UK). He had previously spoken at the Ard Fheis of Saoradh, a political party that operates openly and legally. Nine of its members have been arrested and charged with various terrorism offences as part of the police and MI5 operation that resulted in Issam's arrest. The operation is said to be directed against the New IRA.
Issam's lawyer told Dungannon Magistrates Court last week:
"My client speaks to numerous groups on Palestine. He went to the Saoradh Ard Fheis, he was certainly misled. Refusing bail drives a coach and horses through the presumption of innocence. There are issues of entrapment. Hopefully the prosecution sees sense and drops these charges."
Issam urgently needs all the support he can get, perhaps especially from Palestine solidarity groups and networks in the UK.
If a Palestinian in, say, Ramallah, active in civil society and known personally to activists in Scotland, had been detained by Israeli forces in similar circumstances and was now on hunger strike, there would be a surge of support. We can do no less for Issam.
SACC was founded in 2003 to support nine Algerian men arrested in Scotland on junk "terrorism" charges. The arrests were accompanied by newspaper stories, supposedly from an MI5 source, about plans to bomb Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations. Nothing like that featured in the charges that were in due course brought against the men. It very quickly became clear that the purpose of the charges was to flesh out the lies that Tony Blair was using to justify the US-UK attack on Iraq. It didn't matter that nothing in the charges - which were in any case groundless - linked the men to Iraq. Tony Blair's argument was that Britain was under serious threat from terrorists, that this somehow meant that it was right for Britain to attack any country that might conceivably threaten it in a somewhat related way, and that, because of the "dodgy dossier" on non-existent weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's general unpleasantness, Iraq was such a country. A plot against Britain by Algerians would have fitted this sequence of associative fear-mongering and belligerence very nicely. Another non-existent UK plot by Algerians - the ricin plot - served that purpose and featured in US Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the UN. A Scottish plot would have been a welcome garnish on the smorgasbord of lies.
The only problem was that the evidence against the men was risible. There was no plot. The men were released on bail a few days before Britain and the US launched their attack on Iraq and the charges were quietly dropped at the end of the year.
The kind of manipulation that was unsuccessfully attempted in relation to the Algerian men remains the main value to government of its terrorism laws. The laws have been augmented since 2003 to do that job better - for example by the Terrorism Act 2006 under which Issam is charged.
SACC continues to campaign for the repeal of Britain's anti-terrorism legislation. And we continue to offer our support and solidarity to individuals and communities affected by these unjust laws.
Issam Hijjawi must be released from prison and the charges against him must be dropped.