CAMPAIGNERS say they are "increasingly concerned" for the welfare of an Edinburgh doctor who is on hunger strike in prison in Northern Ireland.

Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat, from Edinburgh, has been remanded in custody at Maghaberry Prison near Lisburn on a terrorism charge arising from his attendance at an alleged meeting of the New IRA in Omagh on July 19.

Dr Bassalat, who was arrested at Heathrow Airport on August 22, was one of ten people people snared as part of a major operation by the police and MI5 against the New IRA.

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Supporters claim 62-year-old Dr Bassalat, who is described as a "well-known and well-respected member of the Scottish Palestinian community", is the victim of entrapment by the security service.

He has been on hunger strike since September 16 in protest over being placed in Covid isolation since returning to the prison from Craigavon Area Hospital, following an MRI scan.

He was refused bail on the same day.

Around 20 other inmates in Roe House, the wing which houses dissident republican prisoners, have also been refusing food in solidarity with Dr Bassalat.

Due to the Covid pandemic, Dr Bassalat, who has medical problems including a heart condition and back problems, was isolated for 14 days on arrival at HMP Maghaberry before being transferred to Roe House.

However, a further 14 day quarantine was implemented on his return from hospital in case of potential exposure to the virus.

Richard Haley, chair of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), said he was "extremely concerned" by the circumstances surrounding the doctor's his arrest.

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Dr Bassalat's lawyer told Dungannon Magistrates Court on September 16 that he had been "pestered" into attending a meeting of political party Saoradh Ard Fheis, where he spoke about the current situation in Palestine, by an MI5 agent.

Mr Haley added: "I am also desperately concerned over the treatment that has driven Dr Bassalat to embark on a difficult and risky hunger strike.

"Of course the prison must protect other prisoners and staff from Covid-19, but the steps it has taken appear to be ill-judged and disproportionate and to have been taken without sufficient regard for Dr Bassalat's medical condition."

The SACC is calling for Dr Bassalat to be immediately transferred back to Roe House and pushing for all charges against him to be dropped.

Dr Bassalat, who is Palestinian in origin, came to the UK in 1995 to work as a doctor before settling in Scotland in 2010. In 2017 he was chair of the Association of Palestinian Communities in Scotland.

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A spokeswoman for the NI Prison Service said Dr Bassalat would return to Roe House tomorrow if he shows no signs of the virus.

She said it was following public health advice and that isolated prisoners have access to healthcare, legal representation, showers, and family contact.

She added: "The Prison Service takes very seriously the safety of staff and all those placed in our care, and is committed to doing everything possible to prevent the spread of Covid19 in our prisons.

"If the prisoner does not develop Covid symptoms, he will return to Roe House on Tuesday."