The sham trial of Hassan Diab

Michelle Weinroth

Mondoweiss  /  May 4, 2023

Hassan Diab is a Canadian academic falsely accused of bombing a Paris synagogue in 1980. In April, a French court convicted and sentenced him to life in prison in a trial that can only be described as a mockery of justice.

Hassan Diab is a Canadian academic falsely accused of bombing a Paris synagogue on rue Copernic in 1980. He was wrongly extradited to France in 2014. He languished in solitary confinement in a French maximum-security prison for over three years but was never formally charged. He remained under investigation for that time but was ordered released in 2018 by two French investigative judges who found consistent evidence that he was in Lebanon during the 1980 attack. However, in the face of political pressure and lobbying, the French Court of Appeal, in 2021, reversed the decision and ordered Hassan Diab to stand trial. 

Exactly a decade earlier, When the Canadian extradition judge, Robert Maranger, ruled that Hassan Diab be extradited to France, and despite weak and convoluted evidence, he stated that “the prospects of conviction in the context of a fair trial, seem unlikely.” Today, those words ring hollow. On April 21, 2023, Hassan Diab was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Even to the many who prayed for his acquittal, the verdict was a foregone conclusion; the Copernic trial was pure theatre, driven by political pressure to scapegoat an innocent man. There was no burden of proof, no official transcripts, and digital recording of the trial was strictly forbidden. Whether testifying under oath or not, witnesses could lie with impunity since perjury in France is practically never punished. Risible testimonies (e.g., that Diab swam from Cyprus to Europe!) went unchallenged. The civil parties and the prosecutors were allowed to vilify the accused, filibuster, and steal the defense’s speaking time.  As Bernie Farber, the chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, tweeted, the resulting verdict by the French Court was “a Shanda,” an outrage. 

The incriminating story, which French prosecutors touted throughout the trial, was a variation on a narrative France presented in 2008 to Canadian extradition authorities when Diab was first sought. In 2011, unsourced intelligence in France’s Record of the Case (evidence required for extradition) was deemed indefensible. Counsel for the Attorney General thus cast it aside (p.60) lest it undermine the extradition request. But in 2021, when France’s Appeals Court overturned Diab’s dismissal, the French reconstituted the old yarn, with its strands of incoherent circumstantial material, unsworn foreign intelligence (i.e., hearsay) (9:58-10:55 in the video below) and defamatory falsehoods, possibly sourced through torture (16:40 – 16:41 of the linked video). 

In that 2021 iteration, the French linked Diab to a Palestinian terror group while assigning him superhuman powers. In October of 1980, he was said to have studied for exams in Beirut, flown to Paris to plant a bomb on rue Copernic, then flown back to Beirut just in time to sit the exams. There is no evidence for this breathtaking scenario. The French Court of Appeal concocted this fiction to counter Diab’s alibi that he was in Beirut at the time of the attack. The prosecution’s 2023 version circles back to the incoherent 2008 story, claiming he traveled to Paris via Spain via train. But, as French investigative judge Jean-Marc Herbaut indicated at the trial: You can’t have it both ways. 

Even to Robert Maranger, the story, from its inception, has been a suspect labyrinthian tale. Since 2008, it has morphed into a shape-shifting phantom. Each revenant lacks concrete proof, and together the multiple renditions are irreconcilable. Still, French authorities have persisted in making groundless assertions, clinging on to the spurious theory of a “smoking gun”: a faded facsimile of a passport, for which there is no original. The latter, according to Herbaut, was likely doctored up with false visas. 

Since 2018, all allegations against Diab have been discredited by irrefutable fingerprint evidence and not least by powerful testimonies from university authorities and classmates confirming Diab’s alibi. He was not in Paris at the time of the bombing. Shockingly, the presiding judge at the trial ignored Diab’s amply documented alibi and allowed witnesses to suppress crucial exculpatory fingerprint evidence. This concealment has a history. In 2007, French authorities denied that fingerprint evidence even existed (10:52 – 11:50 in the Global News video above). It was a lie exposed in 2018. In 2008, a forensic examination of Diab’s fingerprints excluded him. In 2021, the French Court of Appeal, seeking to discount Diab’s exculpatory evidence, speculated fancifully that the bomber took extra care not to leave any trace of fingerprints. This became known as the “careful bomber” theory. Such mendacity would not stand up in a North American court. Nor would the signature feature of France’s criminal law known as intime conviction, a judge’s deep personal belief on which he can render a verdict, even without conclusive evidence. That the fate of a man can rest on this legal prerogative, steeped in presumption and prejudice, is of the utmost cruelty.

The Copernic trial was not only a mockery of justice, it was a moral crucifixion, with hostile reverberations in the Quebec press. David Cochrane’s CBC interview with Diab on Power and Politics offers a welcome break from this cruelty; it is a must see. Those willing to renounce prejudice will view Diab’s humanity on full display here: a man of exquisite composure, intelligence, and moral grace – decidedly not the bomber of Copernic.

Michelle Weinroth is a writer and teacher living in Ottawa; she has studied the Hassan Diab Affair for almost a decade