Dr Issam Bassalat, a Scottish Palestinian man facing terrorism charges in Northern Ireland, has issued an appeal to human rights and anti-racism groups to monitor his case. Dr Bassalat denies the charges against him. He has described his entrapment by MI5 as a "political assassination."
Dr Bassalat is originally from the occupied West Bank and came to the UK in 1995 to work as a doctor before settling in Scotland in 2010. He lives in Edinburgh and is a well-known and respected member of the Scottish Palestinian community and advocate for the Palestinian people. In 2016-17 he served as Chair of the Association of Palestinian Communities in Scotland. The organisation was replaced in 2018 by the Scottish Palestinian Society. At the time of his arrest Dr Bassalat was a member of the new organisation but held no office in it.
He is currently on remand in Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland. When his case comes to trial it will be heard by a judge sitting without a jury, in a continuation of the system of Diplock courts introduced in Northern Ireland as an emergency measure in 1973. If he were facing the same charges in Scotland, where some of the evidence against him was gathered, his case would be heard before a panel of 15 jurors. The fact that his case will never be put to a jury is affecting every aspect of its handling by the courts.
Dr Bassalat was arrested on 22 August 2020. He was one of 10 people arrested at various locations over a period of several days as part of Operation Arbacia, which the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said was "an investigation into the activities of the New IRA" and involved "partners such as MI5, Police Scotland, An Garda Siochana and the Metropolitan Police Service." The MI5 investigation into Dr Bassalat's activities will inevitably have involved cooperation with other countries, including Israel.
It later emerged that all the evidence presented against Dr Bassalat had been obtained as a result of the activities of one man, Dennis McFadden, who was named in open court last year as an MI5 agent. McFadden has subsequently disappeared. His role in MI5 has never been denied. SACC understands that prosecutors do not intend to call him as a witness.
It was nearly a year before prosecutors provided Dr Bassalat, his 9 co-defendants and their legal teams with its file setting out the prosecution case, and it may take years more for the case to come to trial. Despite the slow progress of the proceedings, and what SACC believes are the obvious facts that Dr Bassalat is no threat to the public and will not flee justice, he has so far been refused bail. The presumption in favour of bail under UK law appears not to apply in Northern Ireland to defendants whose political views the British state dislikes.
Dr Bassalat said the entrapment operation was "nothing more than a political assassination of the Palestinian cause and the pro-Palestinian activist." He said he has suffered "irreversible damage to all things dear to me."
The legal proceedings have harmed his arrangements with his ex-wife for access to their children and his life with his present wife, who he married outside the UK just a week before his arrest, and who cannot apply for a spousal visa as long as the legal proceedings are going on.
His health has been damaged by his imprisonment. Dr Bassalat said:
"Before my arrest, my long term disc prolapse flared up so severely that I interrupted my marriage holiday abroad and returned to the UK to have surgery and that’s when I was arrested on arrival. Despite 3 video link consultations with medical specialists, all of whom recommended urgent surgery and warned of possible irreversible consequences if the surgery was delayed, only on 7 June 2021, that’s more than 10 months after my arrest, the surgery took place through the prison services, while the court 3 times refused my application for compassionate bail to get the surgery done privately, at my expense, at an early stage of my imprisonment. Now I ended with a documented, irreversible weakness of my right leg."
His professional life has also been damaged. The General Medical Council has suspended his licence to practice medicine on a “public interest basis” renewable every 6 months until the end of the legal proceedings.
The impact of MI5 entrapment on Dr Bassalat's life follows the pattern adopted by the Israeli government in attacking the professional and personal life of its political opponents. In 2016 Israel set up a "tarnishing unit" to carry out attacks of this sort against people promoting the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign. Dr Bassalat is on record as supporting BDS.
Dr Bassalat said “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."
We agree with Dr Bassalat and his barrister Brenda Campbell QC that "enough is enough" and we strongly endorse Dr Bassalat's call for human rights and anti-racist organisations to monitor his case and uphold his right to a fair trial.
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- PSNI statement on Operation Arbacia - www.psni.police.uk/news/Latest-News/240820-statement-from-crime-operations-assistant-chief-constable-barbara-gray-on-operation-arbacia/
- For background on Dennis McFadden's role in the case, see this report from Channel 4 News (21 October 2020): https://youtu.be/SxszWn367pY
- For background about the Israeli government's "tarnishing unit", see https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/aug/14/bds-boycott-divestment-sanctions-movement-transformed-israeli-palestinian-debate and https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-israel-setting-up-dirty-tricks-unit-to-spread-dirt-on-bds-groups-1.5397740
- Dr Bassalat's support for BDS, in the context of a high-profile campaign against the inclusion of state-funded Israeli artists in the 2016 Edinburgh Festival is reported at https://www.middleeasteye.net/features/edinburghs-largest-arts-festivals-feel-heat-over-israel-boycott-campaign
- Brenda Campbell QC, counsel for Dr Bassalat, said at a bail hearing in June: “The time has come to recognise enough is enough and to grant this doctor bail. He has every expectation of being fully acquitted.” https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2021/06/23/news/doctor-charged-in-connection-with-alleged-dissident-republican-meetings-denied-bail-again-2363931/
- Dr Bassalat is represented legally by Gavin Booth at Phoenix Law, Belfast. www.phoenix-law.org
- A fresh bail application by Dr Bassalat was heard as Dungannon Magistrates Court on Friday 8 October. The hearing was adjourned until 12 noon Wednesday 13 October