Northern Ireland news

Prisoners embark on hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinian doctor

Dr Issam Hijjawi, who has been arrested as part of an MI5 sting.

ABOUT 20 dissident republican prisoners being held in top security Maghaberry Prison are refusing meals.

The prisoners say they will fast for two weeks in solidarity with Palestinian doctor Issam Bassalat, who is being held in a Covid-19 isolation area in the Co Antrim prison.

He was placed there on Tuesday after returning from a medical appointment at Craigavon Area Hospital.

Due to Covid restrictions it has been prison policy since March that anyone entering the jail is isolated for 14 days as a precaution.

Dr Bassalat had already carried out the 14 day isolation period when remanded into custody last month.

However, has been told he must now do a second period of isolation after leaving prison for an MRI scan.

The Edinburgh based GP was refused bail earlier this week.

He faces a single count of preparatory acts of terrorism in connection with an alleged New IRA meeting held in Co Tyrone in July that was bugged by MI5.

He claims he was entrapped by Dennis McFadden, named in court as an MI5 agent.

Solicitor Gavin Booth, of Phoenix Law has expressed concerns about the Covid arrangements in the prison, saying his clients were denied a change of clothing during isolation and spent 14 days in the same dirty clothes.

The Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (IRPWA said that Dr Bassalat, was being "forced into isolation in terrible conditions in Foyle House” adding that all prisoners under the organisations care would be embarking "on a two week hunger strike" over the treatment of the Palestinian doctor who they say should be returned to the republican separated wing at Roe House.

The Prison Service said it does not comment on individual prisoners.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: “Since the beginning of Covid-19 over 1,000 men have come through the isolation areas and into the main prison.

“During the 14 days, a person in the isolated area will have access to legal representation, showers, telephones and exercise. Prisoners in separation have previously accepted the need for a 14-day isolation period when they have left the prison for approved purposes.”

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