Edinburgh doctor facing terror charges suffers a heart attack in prison

An Edinburgh medic who is facing terrorism charges in Northern Ireland has suffered a heart attack while behind bars waiting to come to trial.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 12:30 pm

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The family of Dr Issam Bassalat, a Scottish Palestinian, say they are deeply concerned about his health after he was released from hospital and moved to notorious isolation unit within Maghaberry Prison near Lisburn.

Dr Bassalat, 63, with an address at Telford Road in the Capital, faces a charge of attending an alleged meeting of the New IRA.

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Grim conditions: Mahgaberry Prison

He is one of ten suspects detained and charged following a joint PSNI and MI5 sting against the terrorist grouping’s activities. The operation involved bugging two suspected meetings at properties in Co Tyrone in 2020.

Dr Bassalat was subsequently detained at Heathrow Airport in August last year.

He faces a single count of preparatory acts of terrorism by allegedly attending and addressing an IRA meeting in Omagh on July 19 2020.

SACC insist Dr Bassalat is innocent and have campaigned for him to be granted bail.

Previous court hearings were told that the doctor was part of a plan by the grouping to source weapons.

But Dr Bassalat’s legal representatives insist that he had been misled and pestered into attending by an alleged MI5 agent.

His lawyers have stressed he is suspected of playing a lesser role than his co-accused and say he is a victim of "entrapment".

Last month he was rushed tol hospital suffering from chest pain. Dungannon Magistrates Court was told he had suffered a heart attack and was unfit to appear.

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 hamper his recovery. In a phone call to the same family member today he sounded weak.

Isolation cells in Maghaberry Prison are situated in Foyle House, which is known to be in poor condition and to have limited facilities.

Civil rights campaigners, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) say Dr 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. Conditions in Foyle House are unsuitable for anyone with medical problems.

SACC Chair Richard 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.

"So 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.

"He is now limited to a single phone call per day. It looks as if the prison has simply seized the opportunity presented by his heart attack to put new obstacles in the way of his efforts to maintain contact with his family and seek justice. I am in contact with his family and their distress at this development is heart-breaking."

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