Political Prisoner Hassan Diab’s Letters
by Stephen Lendman
In November 2008, Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested Diab for a crime he had nothing to do with – a 1980 Paris synagogue bombing.
Not a shred of evidence connects him to it. He’s a former University of Ottawa and Carleton University sociology professor – terminated without just cause.
He’s a Lebanese national with dual citizenship. He has no criminal record whatever or involvement with the group accused of the Paris bombing.
In June 2011, an Ottawa judge ordered him extradited to France. Several appeals for justice failed.
Canada’s Supreme Court refused to hear his case. A day after last November’s decision, he was extradited. His lawyer, Donald Bayne, said he wasn’t even given time to see his family before departure.
“We were trying to arrange, in the early morning, a visit for Dr. Diab’s wife and child before he was taken away, and the jail replied that he had been in fact picked up at 5:30 AM,” Bayne said.
“So he has not, since the decision yesterday, had even a visit with his wife or child…You can imagine. She’s beside herself with grief.”
In November 2010, he issued a statement categorically denying any connection to the Paris incident. He wasn’t there when it happened.
“I am innocent of the charges against me,” he said. “I condemn all ethnically, racially, and religiously motivated violence.”
The extradition judge in his case called so-called evidence against him “weak, convoluted and confusing.” If tried in a Canadian court, he’d be exonerated, he said.
Last November, he commented on the “Kafkaesque nightmare” he endured for over six years – fighting false charges, enduring detention then strict bail conditions, losing employment, and the devastating effects on his family.
He thanked everyone for their support – including lawyers working tirelessly on his behalf.
He vowed “to never give up” his struggle for justice. He remained hopeful for his eventual return home to his family and friends.
On May 1, the Ottawa Citizen published excerpts from his letters he wrote awaiting trial from Fleury-Merogis prison near Paris.
He’s in a special unit for high-profile inmates. He’s denied bail. He’s been able to see his wife and young children only once since incarcerated.
Letters and phone calls are his means of communication. His trial is unlikely before the middle of next year. His grueling ordeal continues.
Excerpts from 20 letters he wrote from last November to mid-April are as follows:
He’s confined to his cell about 20 hours daily. It’s “less worse than at OCDC (Ottawa Carleton Detention Center),” he said.
“I have my own (!) TV though the programmes are in French only. There’s a corner in the cell, which consists of a shower and toilet.”
“I have a sink, cupboards and a desk with a mini single bed (plastic mattress and a triangular pillow).”
“There is one window I can open to get fresh air. I spent the first night in a regular wing only to be upgraded four floors.”
“Unlike the OCDC, there is no uniform for inmates but only the guards are allowed to wear blue. Blacks and other minorities – Arab mostly – are close to 50 per cent of all guards.”
“According to what I’ve been told, the Afro-Arab percentage of inmates is very high. But prison is a prison no matter how you look at it, as Nelson Mandela once said…There are only oppressive and more oppressive prisons.”
Food is coming now at any minute (dinner @ 5:30 p.m.). We eat it in our cells. Other non-VIP inmates are much less restricted than us.”
“They can go out alone or with others in the hallway. Generally the guards are less worse than their Canadian counterparts.”
“I haven’t witnessed any maltreatment so far. I can’t go out to play football (soccer) but I can watch the kids playing from my window.”
“I saw one detainee getting angry at a guard because the guard didn’t say please when he asked him to leave his cell. I was also shocked at their smiles and friendships with some detainees.”
“They took us to another wing on the same floor to do the morning promenade. No reason was provided.”
“The guard laughed and said ‘there is nothing wrong with your original terrace so we brought you here.’ The guys translated for me. They laughed too.”
“Visitations are inside small cabins like rooms with guards outside the door. At least I can hug you all.”
Prisoners can rent TVs and small refrigerators. Diab watches television to improve his French. He’s taking French and Spanish language lessons.
“I am afraid I’ll be a TV addict,” he said. “However, I rarely pay attention because everything’s in French. Maybe after taking a French course I will be an addict.”
“As you can guess, we haven’t been able to watch any other news on TV except what happened last week (the terrorist attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo).”
“It brings so much the memory of 9-11 back to memory, esp. the aftermath of the attack. The future doesn’t look any more promising, if not very dark.”
“Every time you entertain the idea of finally reason prevailing, you get disappointed. At the end, only innocents pay.”
Diab is relieved by not seeing, hearing or experiencing inmate violence, he said. At the same time, shouting and screaming happens throughout the day and night.
“The inmates screaming and yelling most of the day and night is a major problem for those who want to read, sleep etc. Better than total silence at nights at OCDC and the heavy loads of violence.”
“I watched some football and slept early, 9:30 p.m. but the transvestites’ noise and ritual celebration every night woke me up around midnight. I screamed and shouted back, which they enjoyed like crazy dogs. So I gave up.”
“I was hoping and wishing every hour that we get rid of these noisy transvestites. God must have heard me because he sent two more in addition to the five we have. So we have to deal seven now. God will rest on the eighth day (he he he).”
“Screaming and banging on the cells on the lower floors has just started, for unknown reasons. My 3rd floor neighbor below decided to play loud music till close to 1 a.m.”
“I protested by tapping on my floor – his ceiling. I tapped the floor hard at 7 a.m. to revenge. I hate to do it but weeks of late night noise.”
He commented on some of his fellow prisoners, saying:
“Christophe (Rocancourt) insisted again today to give me half of a big portion of food that he’d received from the outside for Christmas. They allow that only on Xmas.”
“He is a really nice guy and the only one who has helped me a lot so far – with new clothes and shoes he gave me. The others are not bad but he’s the best among them.”
“Andre received a transfer to another prison. He might spend four months before he gets early release due to his heath and age. Andre is 72.”
“He served one year and days out of eight years. It’s good news but I wonder how much when his health is not good. Maybe better than good health and a long time in jail.”
“We have a new member of the group – Andre, same name as the gynecologist who left two weeks ago. He looks like a teacher – white, educated unlike 90 per cent of the inmates.”
Diab’s Paris lawyer, Stephane Bonifassi, said hope keeps his spirit relatively high.
“It’s the third month anniversary in the Paris prison,” said Diab. “It looks like eternity. However I feel stronger than when I first arrived.”
“They are manipulating anything they feel helpful to make a less than flimsy case. I’m sure by now they know they are fishing in the wrong pond.”
“I forgot to mention negative results of three fingerprint reports -one copy of fingerprints came from US immigration; another from RCMP and a third from Paris upon my arrival.”
“A fourth copy they took from me 10 days ago, which they haven’t provided us with results. So happy anniversary!”
More good news followed.
“The fingerprint testing results (fourth set) came back negative which means there was no tampering,” he said.
“The guys around me asked ‘why are they keeping you here after the negative results?’ I said ask Kafka. I hope reason will visit the minds of those in control.”
In mid-March, a judge rejected his bail application. He prepared to appeal.
“My head is loaded with the stuff I have been reading for days,” he said. “I saw the lawyer and gave him all materials that I prepared.”
“He updated me about the bail situation. We had received (Judge Marc) Trevidic rejection a few days earlier.”
“We have 10 days to appeal the decision, then they have 15 day to set an appeal date. Stephane says the judge’s only card is intel and he relies on it. I hope I supplied Stephane with enough contradictory intel to strengthen his legal point.”
“Today has been just good. I forgot to put stamps on today’s letter. The guard brought it back to me. Luckily he waited for me to stick stamps.”
“Sorry for nagging about a lack of letters. I was just in a bluesy mood. We had all unpleasant news from the judge though we had no shred of doubt about expected outcomes.”
“The final say is with the Court of Appeal. I put in a written request to use a prison computer to read legal files.”
“I received the official (written) bail rejection today. I felt like the judge didn’t care to deal with our points.”
“Stephane informed me about the April 3rd (bail) appeal hearing. They wanted me to participate by video but I believe, as Stephane, that we should appeal this thing and it’s important that judges see me in person.”
“Guard just came to officially inform me of Friday April 3rd appointment. It’ll be a teleconference (video) and not in person.”
I’m concerned about Friday’s (appeal). I don’t have any significant knowledge about the procedure. I don’t know what to do to impose our chance of a positive outcome.”
“(April 3) Hope today’s outcome will open a new era of success – only success! Mentally I just can’t think of anything but a positive outcome. What a torture session.”
“4:38 p.m. Another dashed hope though we had strong suspicions. I shouldn’t write any more in this mood.”
“(April 4) Back to the ditch! At least I was very rational (at the bail appeal). I lashed out with facts only but to no avail.”
“(April 5) I feel as if I deserted the pen. I was unable to manoeuvre around the right feelings and write about superficial stuff or something doesn’t reflect what I felt after the anticipated shameful decision Friday.”
“I’m in pain not just for myself but for my loved ones, for all friends and supporters who anticipated justice. I’ll stop here. It’s nice weather after days of wind, clouds and drizzly rain.”
“(April 6) I’m trying to get out of this abyss. Problem is you can’t express your feelings and opinion without thinking of potential repercussions or misinterpretations.”
“(April 13) I got the (written) bail appeal decision today. It was 13-14 pages with little over half a page (about the decision) while the rest was a repetition of false allegations.”
“I still can’t believe this. There is nothing in the decision to respond to what we raised in our request. I can see nothing but a horrible outcome.”
His letters were filled with comments about his family. The heartache of separation is pronounced. At one point he said “I have to stop writing or my tears will blind me.”
Earlier he said his “life (was) turned upside down because of unfounded allegations and suspicions.”
“I am innocent of the accusations against me. I have never engaged in terrorism.”
“I have never participated in any terrorist attacks. I am not an anti-Semite.”
Diab hopes judicial proceedings will exonerate him. Not a shred of evidence connects him to the 1980 Paris incident.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”
Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.
It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs.