THE FAMILY of a Scottish-Palestinian Doctor facing terrorism-related charges in prison in Northern Ireland are concerned for his welfare.

Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) said Dr Issam Bassalat was removed to a hospital after suffering a heart attack but that following his release he was placed in isolation within a unit in Maghaberry Prison which the organisation says is “infamous” for its poor conditions.

SACC chair Richard Haley said his relief that Bassalat had been discharged was “completely shattered” by the discovery.

Bassalat, from Edinburgh, has been held on remand in Maghaberry Prison since August 2020 awaiting trial on charges that his lawyer says are a result of “entrapment”.

He is accused of preparation of terrorist acts in relation to his attendance at an alleged meeting of the New IRA at an address at Buninver Road in Omagh, County Tyrone, on July 19.

A defence lawyer for Bassalat set out that his client is a GP based in Scotland who formerly chaired the Palestinian Society and has addressed the Scottish Parliament.

READ MORE: SACC raises concerns for Edinburgh doctor on hunger strike in Northern Irish jail

“He has addressed a number of political groups on a number of political issues in an entirely peaceful and democratic way, nor has he come to the attention of the police for any of those activities,” he told the court.

He said his client had been “pestered” to attend and address a public meeting that he believed had an “exclusively political purpose” while in Belfast. He went on to claim that his client had been “entrapped” by an MI5 agent.

Last Saturday evening, the SACC says Bassalat was rushed to an external hospital suffering from chest pain. He has a pre-existing heart condition.

He was scheduled to appear for a bail hearing at Dungannon Magistrates Court, but the court heard on Wednesday that he had suffered a heart attack and although back in prison, not fit to appear via court video link.

He returned to Maghaberry Prison on Tuesday and was immediately placed in isolation for 14 days. In a phone call to a family member that day, he said that he was very worried that conditions in the isolation unit would impact his recovery.

Reportedly, on a phone call to the same family member yesterday he sounded weak.

Isolation cells in Maghaberry Prison are situated in Foyle House, which is renowned for its poor condition and limited facilities.

The National: Naomi Long

Bassalat spent 14 days there on admission to Maghaberry last year and then after a visit to an external hospital for a scan shortly afterwards spent a further period in isolation. He went on hunger strike in protest at his treatment, triggering a solidarity hunger strike by prisoners across Northern Ireland.

According to a statement last year by Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long (above), prisoners returning from external hospital are not automatically placed in isolation; a risk assessment is carried out and a decision is taken by the prison governor.

The family are shocked at Bassalat’s being placed in isolation after emergency hospital treatment – conditions in Foyle House are unsuitable for anyone with medical problems.

Bassalat is double-vaccinated and says that the hospital that treated him took thorough precautions to prevent infection. He was not placed in isolation after he visited an external hospital in June for spinal surgery.

Haley said: “I spoke to Issam on Saturday afternoon. He did not mention any medical problem and was taking a keen interest in the progress of his bail application. I was very surprised when I heard on Sunday that he had been taken to hospital on Saturday evening.

“My relief on learning that he had been discharged from hospital on Tuesday was completely shattered by the discovery that Maghaberry had placed him in isolation, where I know that he had a very hard time a year ago.

“Issam has been double-vaccinated and there must be better ways to manage any residual risk than by putting a sick man into an ill-equipped isolation unit.

“He is now limited to a single phone call per day. It looks as if the prison has seized the opportunity presented by his heart attack to put obstacles in the way of his efforts to seek justice.”