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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Tariq Ramadan accuser says academic must 'recognise the truth'

Henda Ayari says Oxford professor's supporters may learn to regret their actions

French writer and feminist activist Henda Ayari, poses during a photo session in Paris, on November 24, 2017. She told Le Parisien newspaper that she was raped by Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan. Joel Saget / AFP Photo
French writer and feminist activist Henda Ayari, poses during a photo session in Paris, on November 24, 2017. She told Le Parisien newspaper that she was raped by Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan. Joel Saget / AFP Photo

The first of several women to accuse the Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan of rape says she wants neither to ruin nor humiliate him, but to spare others what she claims to have suffered.

Henda Ayari spoke to The National as a growing international campaign portrayed Mr Ramadan as the victim of a failure of due process, not convicted but held in solitary confinement in a French jail unable to prepare his legal defence.

“I am not looking for vengeance or to destroy him,” said Ms Ayari, 41, the Muslim daughter of parents of North African origin.

“But I want Tariq Ramadan to recognise the truth, to help in the rebuilding of my own life; but also because I am fighting as a supporter of women’s rights.”

To admirers – academics, intellectuals, some Muslim community leaders and the eminent British film director Ken Loach – the 55-year-old Oxford University professor, whose Egyptian grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood, is a martyr.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency is not alone in drawing comparisons with the Alfred Dreyfus affair, the case of a Jewish French army officer wrongly convicted in 1894 of passing military secrets to Germany. With Mr Ramadan’s case, France is witnessing “another character assassination with political and racist motivations”, Anadolu said.

An open letter signed by dozens of Mr Ramadan’s supporters questioned whether he was receiving “the equal treatment so prized by France when high-ranking political figures accused of similar offences continue to enjoy full freedom of movement ... is there one form of justice for Muslims and another for everyone else?”

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Read more:

Tariq Ramadan loses bid for bail ahead of trial

Tariq Ramadan admits relationship with rape complainant

New evidence in rape case undermines Tariq Ramadan’s alibi

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But to Ms Ayari, and others who say Mr Ramadan abused them, he is undeserving of sympathy.

“It is for the courts to decide,” she said. “Eventually, if French justice says he is guilty, those people may regret their support.”

Allegations against Mr Ramadan surfaced in October last year amid the wave of interest, characterised by the #MeToo hashtag in Twitter, in claims of historic sexual abuse of women by rich or powerful men.

Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan. AFP 
Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan. AFP 

Ms Ayari, who has written two books – I Chose to be Free and Never Again Veiled, Never Again Raped – is one of three women who have told investigators they were raped by Mr Ramadan in attacks that also involved physical violence.

Following the complaint lodged by Ms Ayari, other women – in Switzerland and the United States – reported that they, too, were victims.

Mr Ramadan, who took leave of absence as a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Oxford before his arrest to fight the allegations, protests his innocence and says he is the target of an orchestrated campaign of lies.

Ms Arayi says she previously regarded Mr Ramadan as a saintly figure who, online, had guided her away from Salafism.

But she says she was terrified by his violence in a Paris hotel room in 2012 when, she alleges, she was slapped, spat on and grabbed around the throat as well as raped. On defence complaints about a change of date and location for the encounter, she says her uncertain memory was corrected by personal records.

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Tariq Ramadan’s alleged victim ‘beaten at home’

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Another woman, identified as “Christelle”, spoke on French television of Mr Ramadan’s demeanour suddenly changing from respectful to threatening. She said she was hit repeatedly and left feeling she was with “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, referring to Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th-century novel about a doctor with the power to transform himself into a killer. “The more I screamed, the more he hit me.”

However, another literary allusion was chosen by Peter Oborne, a conservative British commentator and supporter of the pro-Ramadan campaign.

He describes the academic “rotting in a French jail like Jean Valjean”, the main character in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, imprisoned for 19 years after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his poverty-¬stricken family.

Citing the cases of two French ministers accused of rape but neither detained nor forced from office, Oborne told The National: “The charges are very serious and Ramadan should go to jail if guilty, but there is a suspicion of double standards.

“France claims to be the birthplace of liberty, equality and fraternity but the facts show a failure of due process.”

The case has unfolded while French authorities have declared the cases of budget minister Gerard Darmanin and the ecology minister Nicolas Hulot – who, like Mr Ramadan, deny all wrongdoing – “sans suite”, meaning the inquiries will go no further owing to lack of evidence.

Pro-Ramadan campaigners have seized on what they regard as unfair differences in the way Mr Ramadan’s case is being treated.

However, the chief Paris public prosecutor, Francois Molins, accustomed to handling major terrorist cases but now in charge of the Ramadan affair, rejected suggestions of “two-speed justice”.

“We have shown we are not afraid to pursue high-ranking people, even members of government. We have an obligation of impartiality,” Mr Mollins told Le Parisien newspaper.

France’s former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and a former prime minister, Francois Fillon, are under criminal investigation on corruption charges.

British journalist Peter Oborne says there are doubts about how Tariq Ramadan has been treated in France. Photo: Mark Thomas REX/Shutterstock 
British journalist Peter Oborne says there are doubts about how Tariq Ramadan has been treated in France. Photo: Mark Thomas REX/Shutterstock 

In the case of Mr Ramadan, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, a denial of bail has shocked some observers. The Paris appeal court has twice justified it on grounds of possible abscondment or pressure on complainants.

Mr Ramadan has advised the British government and EU on faith issues and appeared on television, yet he is something of an enigma.

At the university’s Oxford Islamic Studies Online site, Prof Joseph Kechichian sums up the reservations: “A frequent charge is that he says different things to different audiences.

“Many suspect that he speaks to radical Islamists or young Muslims in one way, and to western media or academia in another.”

Prof Kechichian, a Beirut-born political scientist, however, said there was “consistency in Ramadan’s discourse” despite his occasionally convoluted work.

Emmanuel Marsigny, Mr Ramadan’s lawyer, told The National the presumption of innocence had been undermined.

“What I deplore is the deprivation of his liberty without judgment being given,” he said, and that investigations had revealed “lies and incoherences” in the accusations against his client.

In the next step of the judicial process, Mr Ramadan will be questioned by judges in July about a third accuser, Mounia Rabbouj, a former escort who says he raped her in various European hotels. Mr Ramadan has admitted to consensual sexual relations.

Ms Rabbouj says she was beaten up by intruders at her home after lodging her allegations.

Ms Ayari, meanwhile, reflects upon the death threats she has received. “I have sometimes wondered about coming forward,” she said. “But I no longer have regrets. Not just for me but for every woman who suffers harassment or abuse.”

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