A SCOTTISH human rights organisation says it is becoming increasingly concerned for the welfare of an Edinburgh-based doctor who has been on hunger strike in jail in Northern Ireland for nearly two weeks.

Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) says Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat has been on hunger strike in Maghaberry Prison since September 16. It says he is being held on remand after being arrested as a result of what his lawyer calls entrapment during a police and MI5 operation against the New IRA.

The group says about 50 Republican prisoners have joined the hunger strike in solidarity. It has written to Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long to express its concerns but says it has so far received no reply.

According SACC, on admission to prison, Bassalat spent 14 days in isolation as a coronavirus prevention measure. He was then moved to Maghaberry’s Roe House, where Republican prisoners are housed.

SACC says that soon afterwards Bassalat visited an outside hospital for an MRI scan. On return to prison on September, he was put back into isolation for a further 14 days.

Bassalat went on hunger strike in protest at this treatment. SACC says the combined effect of his medical issues and the hunger strike are now causing his friends and family serious concern. Bassalat, who is of Palestinian origin, came to the UK in 1995 to work as a doctor and settled in Scotland in 2010. He now lives in Edinburgh and is described as a well-known and respected member of the Scottish Palestinian community.

He served as chair of the Association of Palestinian Communities in Scotland in 2017. The organisation was replaced in 2018 by the Scottish Palestinian Society. Bassalat is a member of the new organisation but holds no office in it.

SACC says he was arrested at Heathrow airport on August 22 and taken to Belfast to face a terrorism charge arising from his attendance at an alleged meeting of the New IRA in Omagh on July 19.

According to his lawyer, he had been “pestered” into attending the meeting by an MI5 agent who has been named in court as Dennis McFadden. SACC says Bassalat believed the event, organised by the far-left political party Saoradh, formed by dissident Irish republicans in 2016, would be a public meeting. It says Bassalat gave an update and political analysis of the situation in Palestine.

Bassalat was refused bail by Dungannon Magistrates Court. His bail application will now be heard by the High Court. His lawyer told the Magistrates Court: “My client speaks to numerous groups on Palestine. He went to Saoradh’s Ard Fheis [annual conference], but he was 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.”

SACC understands Bassalat has a heart condition and back problems as well as other medical issues. The SACC's Richard Haley said: “I know Dr Bassalat as a colleague and ally in the political struggle for Palestinian rights. He’s very widely known and respected among people involved in that struggle in Scotland.

“I’m extremely concerned by the involvement of MI5 in the investigation that led to his arrest, by the apparent long-term infiltration by MI5 of political activity in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and by claims made in court that Issam and his co-defendants were entrapped.

“Besides their impact on Issam, these apparent abuses are likely to have a chilling effect on political activity within the Palestinian community and more widely among campaigners for Palestinian rights.

“I am also desperately concerned over the treatment that has driven Dr Bassalat to embark on a difficult and risky hunger strike. Of course the prison must protect other prisoners and staff from Covid-19, but the steps it has taken appear to be ill-judged and disproportionate and to have been taken without sufficient regard for Dr Bassalat’s medical condition.”

SACC is calling on the prison authorities to allow Bassalat to return immediately to Roe House and to ensure that his medical needs are met. It said: “We hope that in due course he will be granted bail. But we believe that charges should never have been brought against him and that they should now be dropped.”