“We believe this proceeding is descending into arbitrariness.”
An Ottawa university lecturer faces trial in absentia next month in France, where prosecutors continue to allege he was involved in a 1980 terrorist bombing — despite evidence he was in Lebanon at the time.
Hassan Diab, 69, a Canadian citizen born in Lebanon, has been pursued by French authorities for 15 years.
Amnesty International has called on the French government to halt is “groundless” prosecution of Diab and to find those responsible for the Oct. 3, 1980, attack on a Paris synagogue that killed four people and injured 40 others.
“The renewed prosecution of Hassan Diab risks substituting the necessary pursuit of truth and accountability … with another travesty of justice,” Amnesty International said in a recent statement.
Diab’s trial is scheduled to begin April 3. He will be represented in court by French lawyers while he remains in Ottawa.
In an interview, Fabien Goa, an Amnesty spokesman based in Paris, said France’s pursuit of the deeply flawed case offended the country’s commitment to fair trials enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
“We believe this proceeding is descending into arbitrariness,” he said.
Ottawa’s Roger Clark, a member of the the Hassan Diab Support Committee, called on the Canadian government to issue a statement guaranteeing that Diab would not be extradited to France for a second time if he’s found guilty at the upcoming trial.
“I think it’s important for Canada to signal to the French authorities that Canada does not accept this is a fair trial,” said Clark, former secretary general of Amnesty International (Canada). “This, I think, is part of Canada’s obligation to protect its citizens.”
Clark said he did not believe Diab could get a fair trial in France since the only conceivable evidence against him would come from secret intelligence sources.
“I think Canada has to be very, very firm, and make it very clear — even before the trial begins — that it will not accept a second request for his extradition,” Clark said. “There’s no justice if an innocent man is convicted.”
Diab’s Ottawa lawyer, Donald Bayne, said the case had become deeply politicized in France with many outside parties — representing victims and Jewish groups — pushing for a prosecution. French appeal courts have said those parties deserve a trial.
“Unfortunately,” Bayne said, “it means they deserve a scapegoat. It’s quite troubling. But there’s still a slim hope that some reason will prevail in France and the court will acquit him based on the evidence.”
Diab faces peril in the case because France could seek his extradition for sentencing if he was found guilty.
Bayne vowed to strenuously resist any such extradition request “as unjustified and an abuse of process.”
The Diab case has a long, strange history.
Diab was arrested in November 2008 based on a French request for extradition and held in custody for almost four months.
France’s case against Diab, presented during the extradition hearing, was circumstantial. It relied heavily on a handwriting analysis that linked Diab to words the suspected bomber penned on a hotel registration card.
Diab’s legal team introduced its own handwriting experts, who disputed the methods and conclusions of the French analysis.
The extradition judge, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger, described the case against Diab as “weak” and said the prospect of his conviction was unlikely in a fair trial.
Nonetheless, Maranger said Canadian law was such that he could not deny extradition and he ordered Diab turned over to French authorities.
Following appeals that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, Diab was extradited to France, where he spent three years behind bars, awaiting trial.
But in January 2018, two investigative French magistrates dismissed the allegations against Diab due to a lack of evidence and ordered his release from jail without trial. Marc Herbaut and Richard Foltzer said they found evidence to support Diab’s contention that he had been in Beirut, writing exams, at the time of the bombing.
The judges used university records and interviews with former classmates to conclude Diab was “probably in Lebanon” during September and October 1980, making it unlikely that he was the man who bombed the Paris synagogue.
Diab returned to Ottawa days later, but his case did not end there.
French prosecutors appealed the dismissal and in January 2021 an appeal court ordered Diab to stand trial. France’s supreme court, la Cour de cassation, upheld that decision.
Bayne said Diab, a sociology professor and father of two, is anxious and stressed about the forthcoming trial. He continues to teach part-time at Carleton University.
“This is kind of a replay of the Dreyfus case,” Bayne charged.
Alfred Dreyfus was a French military officer who was wrongfully convicted of treason in 1894 in a case heavily freighted by anti-Semitism. His conviction was secured, in part, on the basis of a handwriting analysis that was later proven wrong. Dreyfus was imprisoned on Devil’s Island, but eventually exonerated.
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