Hassan Diab's long, harrowing struggle for justice

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Hassan Diab with his partner and child. Image: friendsofhassandiab.blogspot.ca

If there is such a thing called luck, I am sure it has never crossed the path of Canadian professor Hassan Diab.

He was arrested in 2008 by the RCMP when France requested his extradition for alleged involvement in the 1980 Paris synagogue bombing. His controversial extradition verdict in 2011 made headlines. In this verdict, Justice Robert Maranger stated that "the prospects of conviction in the context of a fair trial seem unlikely."

However, as "confusing" and "convoluted" (to use the exact words employed by Justice Maranger) the evidence was, it didn't prevent Diab's subsequent extradition to France, where he was held at the infamous Fleury-Mérogis high security prison.

The case is old, complex and, frankly, political. It happened 40 years ago, when a bomb exploded in front of the Rue Copernic synagogue in Paris. This tragic terrorist attack took the lives of four people and injured many more. The culprit was never found -- that is, until the French authorities suspected Diab's involvement.

From the outset, Diab's case was clearly a political one. It has also been a case of failed legal attempts to convict him. The continuation and eventual dropping of this legal vendetta would deeply rely on the whims, moods and political wills of both Canadian and French authorities.

When Diab was first arrested in Canada in 2008, it was under the Stephen Harper government. It was an era that today we can easily qualify without hesitation as an unfriendly era for Arabs and Muslims.

Hassan Diab was not only an Arab-Muslim Canadian but also a terrorism suspect. Let's not forget that it was the same Stephen Harper who introduced Bill-51, a bill that later became Canada's anti-terror legislation 2.0.

The law gave expanded powers to police and to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). For years, the Muslim community felt besieged by these new powers. The atmosphere was not favourable to challenging a narrative that linked terrorism to Islam.

Diab's case continued on through those heavy years. He became the collateral damage of this bad witch-hunt scheme. Rob Nicholson, then minister of justice, ordered the extradition of Diab to France. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his appeal. All doors and avenues were shut in Diab's face.

Fear and tension in France

In France, the stars were not aligned in favour of Diab's case, either. Soon after his arrival in French prison, two major terrorist attacks were carried out by French citizens of Muslim descent: the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the Bataclan theatre rampage.

These two attacks shook Paris -- and the whole of French society. It is not a secret that tension and suspicion have characterized the relationship between France and its Muslim citizens.

The radicalization of French youth from suburbia who went to train at Islamic State camps in Syria and Iraq came home to haunt secret intelligence services. These young foot soldiers eventually conducted those terrorist attacks.

French society and its political class were unanimous in condemning these acts. On the other side of the spectrum, the Muslim community came to represent the "evil from within."

Once again, Hassan Diab, through the nature of the suspicions around him, through his ethnicity and religious affiliation, found his case trapped in a dangerous dichotomy of us vs. them. Once again, a heavy atmosphere of suspicion and fear had no exception, even in the courtrooms.

Some light emerged in this long tunnel of successive unlucky events. Justin Trudeau defeated Stephen Harper and became the new prime minister, promising that "a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian," thus rejecting any form of discrimination in legally treating Canadians according to their ethnic background.

And on the other side of the Atlantic, a fresh era began with the 2017 election of Emmanuel Macron, who, in an attempt to appease the tense relationship between the former colonies and their citizens established in France, once famously declared that "colonialism was a grave mistake."

But most importantly, Diab was ordered to be released eight times during his French imprisonment. Each time he would find the decision appealed, remaining in prison until 2018, when the charges against him were finally dropped by French legal authorities. Diab was finally free and able to reunite with his family and children, who he had not seen for years.

The nightmare continues

Unfortunately, his nightmare didn't come to an end. Last week, a French judge ordered him back to court to face the French justice system and stand another terrorism trial.

Needless to say, the atmosphere in France isn't allowing for any "tolerance" towards Arabs and Muslims, or "justification" of any violent act committed by one of "them."

The horrific killing of French teacher Samuel Paty by a Chechen refugee was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Macron's claim that Islam is in crisis and his bill to outlaw "Islamist separatism" (i.e. place mosques under greater control) prompted many observers to declare that France scrutinizes its own Muslim citizens.

Today, Hassan Diab is perhaps "lucky" as he is in Canada and a second extradition to France seems to be unlikely. However, living with the past trauma of those years and the precarity of the years to come is no luck.

Finding someone after so many decades to hold accountable for the horrific attack in 1980 is laudable. But finding them at any cost is highly problematic. Putting Diab's life on hold and destroying whatever semblance of normality he tried to rebuild since his release in 2018 is appalling.

It is time for the Canadian government to put an immediate stop to this terrible travesty of justice.

Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. You can follow her on Twitter @MoniaMazigh or on her blog.

Image: friendsofhassandiab.blogspot.ca

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