PM urged to act for jailed Ottawa professor in France
Supporters of Hassan Diab, an Ottawa professor jailed in France for three years, are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene in his case after French authorities blocked his release for the eighth time on Tuesday.
Tuesday marked the third anniversary of Mr. Diab’s extradition to France, where he is being investigated by authorities in connection with a 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue. Numerous court rulings have cast doubt on the evidence against him and, though no trial is scheduled, Mr. Diab continues to languish in solitary confinement in a Paris prison.
Speaking to The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Mr. Diab’s wife called on Mr. Trudeau to demand French President Emmanuel Macron release her husband so he can return home to his two children, ages 5 and 21⁄2.
“He’s all alone by himself in his cell. I hope the Prime Minister reads this and finds it in his heart to pick up the phone and call President Macron and say that we don’t allow any Canadian citizens to be treated like this,” said Rania Tfaily, an associate professor in the University of Ottawa’s sociology department.
In a joint letter to Mr. Trudeau, a number of Mr. Diab’s prominent supporters, including former Liberal MP Bob Rae and author Naomi Klein, asked the Prime Minister to “remedy this miscarriage of justice and bring Hassan back to his home in Canada.”
“Your government has the power to ultimately mitigate and bring an end to the harm and suffering that an innocent Canadian and his family continue to experience on a daily basis,” the letter read.
Global Affairs Canada spokesman Philip Hannan said Canadian officials were present at Mr. Diab’s Nov. 10 hearing in Paris, and that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and parliamentary secretary Omar Alghabra are following his case. Ms. Freeland most recently met with Ms. Tfaily on Nov. 2, where they discussed the government’s efforts with her husband’s case.
“Minister Freeland has had discussions about Mr. Diab’s case with her French counterparts and Canadian officials have also engaged regularly with French officials on this case,” Mr. Hannan said in an e-mail.
The RCMP arrested Mr. Diab in November of 2008 at the request of French authorities, who suspect he was involved in the October, 1980, bombing of a Paris synagogue that killed four people and injured dozens of others. The 63-year-old has always denied the allegations.
After his arrest, Mr. Diab was jailed for 41⁄2 months and then released under house arrest. In June, 2011, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger ordered Mr. Diab’s extradition despite saying that the evidence against him was “weak, convoluted and confusing.” Mr. Diab was removed from Canada in November of 2014 after the Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal of the extradition order.
Mr. Diab has been in pretrial detention in Paris ever since, during which time four French judges have ordered his release eight times – most recently on Nov. 6. The decision came after new evidence showed that Mr. Diab was in Lebanon writing university exams at the time of the 1980 bombing; it also confirmed Mr. Diab’s claim that his passport was stolen and used by someone else at the time. Despite this, an appeals court overturned the decision and rejected his release order on Tuesday, meaning Mr. Diab will remain behind bars while French authorities determine whether his case will go to trial.
“The rationale has been to release him would cause public disorder in France, which is simply political speak for they don’t want to appear soft on terrorists, even though the judge says this guy’s innocent,” said Donald Bayne, Mr. Diab’s Ottawa lawyer. “He belongs to an unpopular social class in France. He’s a Muslim.”
Mr. Bayne said the Canadian government is walking a “very fine line not interfering with the French judicial process and yet recognizing that it’s part of a tragedy unfolding here at the expense of a Canadian citizen.” He highlighted that a foreign state has already “intervened” in Mr. Diab‘s case in an attempt to keep him behind bars, but declined to offer further details. Members of Mr. Diab’s support team in Ottawa said the Israeli secret service met with French investigative judges in late September and offered their help in charging him.
One of those supporters, Bob Thomson, visited Mr. Diab in prison Tuesday after the prosecutor blocked his release. He said solitary confinement has been hard on Mr. Diab, who has lost about 15 kilograms since he was jailed. He is only allowed to leave his cell for four hours a day, during which time he takes part in prison activities. Tuesday’s activity was a painting class – evident when Mr. Diab showed up to his meeting with Mr. Thomson with paint all over his hands.
“Normally, he’s the last person to leave the painting class. He wants to take advantage of every moment out of his cell when he can. He said today he just couldn’t focus on it.”