Judge moves to allow bail for MI5 sting victim

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A Palestinian doctor caught up in an MI5 bid to intern senior members of Irish republican political group Saoradh is expected to be granted bail after a judge accepted that his life is in danger at Maghaberry prison.

Based in Scotland, Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat was incarcerated last year following an entrapment operation organised by British spy Dennis McFadden.

The GP and lifelong advocate of the Palestinian cause then narrowly escaped death due to his mistreatment by prison authorities following a heart attack.

Despite admitting he faces a risk of another potentially fatal heart attack, a judge is demanding a £20,000 cash bond be increased before Dr Bassalat can get out of prison and receive appropriate care.

The 64-year-old medic has already spent more than 15 months behind bars for speaking about Palestine to a group of republican activists in County Tyrone. He was charged with attending and addressing a meeting of the ‘IRA’.

During a fifth application for High Court bail, defence counsel noted he was suffering from serious spinal and cardiovascular illnesses.

“What we have is a 64-year-old doctor who is genuinely terrified,” counsel Brenda Campbell said.

“He has suffered severe damage to his heart... he was concerned that he was going to die in custody, and that concern is something that remains with him.”

Ms Campbell described Dr Bassalat as a man of impeccable character, devoting decades of service to the British health system and who is respected throughout the Palestinian diaspora.

She argued that the continued incarceration has undermined her client’s dignity and left his professional reputation in ruins. Some 2,000 pages of documents had been prepared by the defence in support of his bail application.

Justice Rooney held that bail should be granted, but only on stringent conditions.

“My decision is based on particular factual circumstances involving a prisoner who has suffered two heart attacks, significant heart damage, the risk of heart failure and death if he doesn’t receive immediate medical attention,” the judge stated.

“It would instill more confidence (if there) was a higher surety than £20,000,” he added, without explanation.

Outside court Dr Bassalat’s lawyer welcomed the indication that he is to be granted bail.

Gavin Booth, of Phoenix Law, said: “We intend on vindicating his good name and demonstrating to the court that our client is fully innocent.”

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