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Update on Palestinian Prisoner Issam Bassalat

Maghaberry prison, 19/11/2018

Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat is a British citizen of Palestinian origin. He lives in Edinburgh. He has been held on remand in Maghaberry Prison, Northern Ireland since August 2020 facing charges that his lawyer says are a result of entrapment. On 19 January 2021 SACC published an open letter demanding proper medical care for him. The letter was supported by 22 organisations and 100 individuals around the world. They included Andy Wightman MSP (Lothian, Scotland), Manu Pineda MEP (Spain, Chair of the Delegation for Relations with Palestine), Clare Daly MEP (Ireland), Councillor Gary Donnelly (Derry City & Strabane, Northern Ireland), Abdel Rahman Abu Hwas (member of the Palestinian National Council), Leila Khaled (member of the Palestinian National Council), Roger Waters (musician) and Brian Eno (musician).

The following update was circulated by SACC Chair Richard Haley on 13 June:

Update on Issam Bassalat, 13 June 2021

Issam has finally had the surgery he needs for his spinal problem and wishes to thank everyone who has given him their support. The operation appears to have been completely successful and has brought him great relief. But the circumstances surrounding the operation are very troubling.

Following the publication of our letter, correspondence between Issam's solicitor and Health and Social Care Northern Ireland resulted, on 29 January, in an offer of assessment for urgent surgery under the NHS. He was eventually given an appointment for surgery at Musgrave Park Hospital in April. Blood samples were taken from him in prison in apparent preparation for hospital admission, but he was not taken to hospital. The process was repeated on a second occasion, but again Issam was not taken to hospital and no explanation was offered. Some time later he was told that he would be taken to hospital, but that for security reasons no date would be given in advance.

On Monday 7 June he was taken from prison to Musgrave Park Hospital, operated on under general anaesthetic, and returned to prison the same day. A stay in hospital of at least a day or two would be usual for this type of operation, as it would for any operation under general anaesthetic. Issam says he was very pleased with the care and professionalism shown by the hospital staff. However, the conditions forced upon Issam and the hospital staff were unacceptable in my view. The supposed security concerns they were based on were in any case groundless and fanciful.

The operation gave Issam immediate relief from the pain he had previously been suffering but, as would be expected, it left him in pain from the surgical incision. Once back in prison he quickly ran out of painkillers and was left without pain relief for three days. Issam says he now feels like a new person, but he nevertheless needs physiotherapy to address the muscle wastage resulting from his previous condition. It remains to be seen whether this will be available in prison.

The circumstances surrouding Issam's hospital treatment and the unsatisfactory care provided by Maghaberry prison after his return are part of a pattern of stigmatisation and harassment directed against him by the British state. They are of a piece with the entrapment by an MI5 agent that led to his arrest.

For some more background about Issam's case, see this report from Channel 4 News (21 October 2020):

Photo: © Michael Cooper/Alamy Stock Photo