British prison authorities in Ireland are using a heart attack suffered by a Palestinian remand prisoner as an excuse to reduce his access to the outside world, his family have warned.
Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat, a Scottish Palestinian, has been held at Maghaberry jail without trial since his detention in a British military ‘sting’ directed against Irish political party Saoradh in August last year.
He was taken to hospital after suffering a heart attack last weeend and was later moved to notorious isolation unit within the jail. His family say they are deeply concerned about the health of the 63-year-old doctor.
Dr Bassalat was encouraged to come to Ireland last summer and attend a meeting organised by MI5 agent Dennis McFadden. A swathe of the Saoradh leadership were detained following the meeting amid claims they took part in an “IRA meeting”, and all remain behind bars.
A court heard this week that Dr Bassalat suffered a heart attack at Maghaberry Prison on Saturday 9 October. He was eventually taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where his lawyer Peter Corrigan, of Phoenix Law, said a stent was inserted.
Mr Corrigan said that his client recognised the symptoms of the heart attack and called out for help, but was left in pain for seven hours before being transferred to the Belfast hospital for emergency surgery.
The lawyer said Dr Bassalat has now been told that “part of his heart muscles are dead.”
Dr Bassalat is understood to have a history of cardiac trouble and previously suffered a heart attack in 2017. Conditions in Maghaberry’s Foyle House, where Dr Bassalat is now being held, are unsuitable for anyone with medical problems.
He spent 14 days in isolation 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 Ireland.
Richard Haley of the civil rights campaign group, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), said: “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.”