Paris prosecutors are investigating allegations of rape levelled at the prominent Muslim intellectual and Oxford University professor, Tariq Ramadan, who is suing for defamation.
The prosecutors' office said Tuesday it had opened a preliminary investigation into allegations made by Henda Ayari, a 40-year-old Salafist turned secular activist who says she was abused by Ramadan.
Ayari filed a complaint last week alleging rape, sexual assault, harassment and intimidation by the Swiss scholar, who is a well-known figure in France. She claimed the attack took place in 2012, on the sidelines of a congress of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF).
Her lawyer, Jonas Haddad, said the plaintiff did not report the assault earlier out of fear, but had been emboldened by women talking of sexual harassment in the wake of allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
"After revelations over the past few days of rape and sexual assault claims in the media, Henda has decided to say what happened to her and take legal action," Haddad said.
Last Friday, Ayari wrote on Facebook that she had been "a victim of something very serious several years ago" but did not reveal the name of her alleged aggressor because of "threats" by him. She said she had described the assault in her book "I Chose to be Free", published in November 2016, giving her aggressor the made-up name "Zoubeyr".
In the book, Ayari describes being attacked by an intellectual in a Paris hotel room, saying that when she fought back she was insulted, slapped and treated violently. On Friday, she named the attacker as Ramadan.
Ramadan has not responded in person to Ayari's claims, but his lawyer Yassine Bouzrou has vigorously denied the allegations and filed a complaint for "defamation".
Bouzrou's office did not return FRANCE 24's calls seeking further comment.
A household name
The case comes as millions of women across the globe have come forward to share personal accounts of sexual assault and sexual harassment following the Weinstein allegations.
Ayari, who once wore a face-covering niqab veil and now heads the anti-Islamist group Les Libératrices (The Liberators), said she had suffered a torrent of abuse from Ramadan's supporters on social media since going public with her allegations last week.
Without giving details, she said she hoped "other women victims, like me, will dare to speak and denounce this perverse guru who uses religion to manipulate women."
The grandson of Hassan al Banna, the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Ramadan was born in Switzerland after his father fled there following the Brotherhood's ban in 1954.
The Swiss-educated academic, who teaches contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, became a well-known figure in US academic circles after the Bush administration refused to grant him a US visa in 2004.
In 1995, Ramadan was temporarily barred from entering France due to alleged links to Algerian terrorists. In 2003, he clashed with France's then interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, when he refused to condemn stoning outright, insisting instead on a "moratorium" on such practices.
Due to his many confrontations with French politicians – in particular with Sarkozy during his presidency – Ramadan has become a household name in France, as derided in some circles as he is respected in others.