Republican prisoners in Portlaoise go on hunger strike in support of Palestinian doctor

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Sarah Slater

Irish Republican prisoners in Portlaoise Prison have started a two-week hunger strike in support of a Palestinian doctor they claim is being housed in “appalling conditions” at Maghaberry Prison in Antrim.

Dr Issam Hijjawi, who who is an outspoken activist for Palestinian rights and lives in Edinburgh, was arrested last month over his attendance of a meeting of alleged members of the New IRA in Omagh.

He was taken into custody as part of a police investigation into the activities of the New IRA and charged with an offence of preparatory acts of terrorism.

The 62-year-old is the tenth person to be charged in the PSNI/MI5 investigation 'Operation Arbacia'.

He was arrested at Heathrow airport as he attempted to leave the UK and transported to Belfast to be questioned at Musgrave PSNI station.

His house in the Blackhall area of Edinburgh was also searched by officers from Police Scotland. Dr Hijjawi, whose family come from the the occupied West Bank, is the chair of the Association of Palestinian Communities in Scotland.

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In a statement, the Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association (IRPWA) said that affiliated prisoners in Portlaoise on the wings E3 and E4, Roe House in Maghaberry Prison and Hydebank Prison are on hunger strike.

The Association said: “At present due to Covid-19 restrictions prisoners upon entry to Maghaberry Prison are placed in a two week isolation/solitary confinement. Dr Hijjawi and his comrades have completed this arduous isolation and are now housed in the Republican landings.”

[Prison authorities] have forcefully and punitively isolated Issam for another two weeks in the filthy and dilapidated conditions that exist in Foyle House

However, they pointed out that due to a medical condition Dr Hijjawi was taken for a hospital MRI scan and has once again been placed in isolation for a further two weeks.

“[Prison authorities] have forcefully and punitively isolated Issam for another two weeks in the filthy and dilapidated conditions that exist in Foyle House.

“Issam has multiple medical conditions and has now embarked on a hunger strike. We feel that to put [him] in isolation is both vindictive and a continuation of the concerted, petty targeting that he has endured since entering Maghaberry Prison.”

The Association called on prison management to show “common sense” and transfer Dr Hijjawi back to Roe House where he “needs to be safely and humanely cared for”.

Police authorities allege he attended one of the two meetings which were bugged by MI5, along with a number of leading members of the group Saoradh, who it is also alleged are members of the New IRA.

He also travelled, sometime in 2018 to Lebanon, and its capital Beirut, with leading Tyrone republican Kevin Barry Murphy.

Dr Hijjawi, who is represented by Phoenix Law, says he attended the meeting to give an update and political analysis on the current situation in Palestine. The Belfast based law firm represents seven of the 10 people arrested as part of the MI5 sting.

Independent councillor and former Dublin Lord Mayor Christy Burke, who took part in a protest outside Kilmainham Gaol said that Dr Hijjawi was being housed in “Dickensian type accommodation and that he needs to urgently be relocated back into the main prison on humanitarian grounds due to his ill health”.

In the 1970s, Cllr Burke served two terms in Portlaoise Prison on IRA membership charges.

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