Following a grueling imprisonment at Maghaberry Jail, the Palestinian rights activist Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat tastes freedom for the first time in 15 months. His case is one that begs more questions than answers about the practices of British security forces in the North.
Born in the West Bank, Dr Bassalat became a naturalised British citizen in Scotland. He was ensnared as part of a coordinated sting operation which saw him being lured to Ireland under the pretenses of speaking on Palestinian rights to Republican groups.
Imprisoned on remand in August of 2020, Dr Bassalat was a regular attendee of events organised by the Republican group Saoradh, largely at the insistence of one Dennis McFadden.
Exposed as a long-term British undercover operative in 2020, McFadden had invited Dr Bassalat to Ireland, even going so far as to provide for his flights and accommodation.
Indeed, the initial meeting between the doctor and McFadden occurred after British security forces insisted Dr Bassalat had to collect his young daughter’s passport in Belfast rather than Glasgow. He was then subsequently invited to speak at bugged Saoradh events arranged by McFadden.
Arrested at Heathrow Airport, Dr Bassalat was charged under the 2006 Terrorist Acts, on the basis of his attendances at meetings he was invited to by an undercover asset.
Following the release of state evidence in the form of transcripts it was shown that the meetings for which Dr Bassalat was jailed for consisted of him merely speaking on behalf of the Palestinian cause in an oratory manner. Speeches which were in no way inflammatory or incriminating.
Experiencing multiple cases of police harassment in the months prior to his August 2020 arrest, British police seemed rather fixated with gaining access to Dr Bassalat’s phone and his contacts in the Middle East, more so than with any of his particular actions.
Following his arrest, Dr Bassalat had his medical license suspended, with press outlets running stories of him allegedly being front and centre of a plot to import munitions from the Middle East in order to aid the Republican cause. Dr Bassalat throughout his ordeal has denied all charges leveled against him, with the state being rather sparing in the evidence it provided for its case.
Repeatedly refused bail at the High Court, Dr Bassalat’s health deteriorated following a heart attack with allegations that he was being denied healthcare on political grounds.
Subjected to four weeks of isolation by prison officials as part of a cynically deployed covid measure, Dr Bassalat conducted a hunger strike in September along with other Republican prisoners to highlight his maltreatment.
A victim of the six counties’ juryless ‘Diplock Courts‘, Dr Bassalat was jailed alongside nine other Irish republicans on the basis of evidence provided by Dennis McFadden as part of his undercover exploits.
In a virtual court last week it was ruled that Dr Bassalat could finally be released on bail, though it is expected he will face further legal proceedings under a juryless court.
Lured under false pretences by a state agent to give a rather typical speech on Palestine, it is clear that Dr Bassalat is being targeted for who he knows rather than what he did.
Driven nearly to his death as he watched his professional career being effectively destroyed, the legal basis for this trauma was thin on the ground.
While Gardaí had a hand in assisting Dr Bassalat‘s arrest, one should ask, were there any other security forces helping to entrap the 62-year old physician?
Considering the cause Dr Bassalat campaigns on behalf of it is very likely Israeli intelligence played their part in his persecution.
Perhaps not the most usual topic for this publication since it is generally quite neutral on Palestinian affairs, Dr Bassalat’s experiences ought warrant the attention of all those who are scathing of dirty tricks on the island, and certainly warrants the attention of those in favour of fair play in the courts and prisons.
In summary, Dr Bassalat had his life turned upside down due to a rather underhanded entrapment operation by the British state which jailed him for attending a meeting their agents had arranged, and who then went out of their way to make the man’s life in prison hell.
Receiving relative media silence in the process, one ponders the actual machinations at play. Machinations which cause intelligence services to fixate on a eldery doctor from Glasgow?
As shown by the Irish state’s involvement in Belarus, we’ve condemned foreign regimes for much less, yet we seem reluctant to do so when it comes to our own island. You may not share Dr Bassalat’s views, but rest assured authorities are willing to dispense the same treatment to political dissidents whatever their cause on both sides of the border.