Following a massive campaign that saw an outpouring of sexual harassment stories being reported on social media, three French women have accused Islamist scholar Tariq Ramadan of sexual assault, according to several media reports.
Ramadan teaches Islamic Studies at Oxford University and has written numerous books on Islam and the integration of Muslims in Europe. He is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The allegations first came to light on 20 October, when Henda Ayari, a former Islamist turned secular feminist accused the controversial academician of rape and assault in 2012. In an interview to a French TV channel, Ayari alleged that Ramadan had thrown himself on her when she entered his hotel room on his invitation to discuss spirituality and religious issues, The Times reported. "He choked me so hard that I thought I was going to die," the article quotes her as saying.
Ayari, who lodged a rape complaint against the 55-year-old Swiss national, charged that for Ramadan: "Either you wear a veil or you get raped".
Millions of people have taken to Facebook and other social media platforms, using the #MeToo to share accounts of being pestered or sexually abused. The French equivalent is #balancetonporc, meaning "expose your pig".
Another woman a convert to Islam alleged that she suffered "sexual violence of great brutality" by Ramadan in a hotel in Lyon in 2009, BBCreported. The woman, who has not revealed her identity, described an extremely violent assault by Ramadan to two French newspapers, Le Monde and Le Parisien. She has also filed a complaint against the Islamic scholar.
The third accusation came Saturday, when yet another woman said that Ramadan sexually harassed her in 2014 and blackmailed her for sexual favors. She said Ramadan threatened to distribute "compromising pictures" of her, a report in Haaretz states. The report further added that the third complainant is also considering pressing charges against Ramadan.
Following the allegations, the Paris prosecutor's office is investigating the case, even as Ramadan denied any wrongdoing. In a detailed Facebook post, Ramadan termed the allegations a "slander campaign" which was "launched by my adversaries."
Ramadan said he would file a defamation suit against the women and would remain determined and calm in fighting of these charges, even as he "anticipated a long and bitter struggle."
Meanwhile, Ayari, mother of three, said that she kept quiet for such a long time because Ramadan was an influential figure and had the support of millions.
"Many people are angry because I denounced someone whom people respect a lot," she told The New York Times over the telephone last week. "I, for example, never would have thought he would do that to me, never, never. I had a great admiration for him for years. For me, he was something like a saint.
"I kept silent for several years for fear of reprisal," The Telegraph quoted her as saying.
Ayari previously published an account of an alleged assault in a book published last year without naming the man, the BBC report said. She also claimed that she endured months of threats after the incident, including threats to her children to stop her from going to the police, according to The Telegraph report.
She said that she was aware that Ramadan's thousands of supporters would rally to his defence.
"I am about to go through a big storm," she wrote on Facebook. "But I don't plan to shut up or backtrack anymore, in the name of all the female victims."
She also said she has been a victim of "real public lynching campaign" on social media ever since she dared name the influential scholar. Her supporters have also started a campaign to raise funds to support her legal battle, as she observed that unlike her opponent, she "does not have the same capacities or financial means to pay for the best lawyers."
"I know that this is a battle of David and Goliath and a clay pot against an iron pot... I do not have the same capacities or financial means to pay for the best lawyers, unlike my opponent, who can allow himself to pay for a hotshot lawyer to defend himself – but I already knew what awaited me and I must assume the consequences after all," her Facebook post read.
One of Ayari's lawyers, Grégoire Leclerc, alleged that Ramadan was using his numerous supporters to defend him. "He prefers to give space on social media to his fans who are throwing a political-religious veil over this affair, to try to detract from the fundamental," The New York Times report quoted the lawyer as saying.
Ramadan's lawyer, Yassine Bouzrou, has denied the accusations and says his client is suing for "false allegations."
A Swiss citizen who grew up in Geneva, Ramadan had been denied entry into US and France amid allegations that he supported charities linked to Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organisation. The US visa ban, however, was overturned in 2010 by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ramadan is a popular figure among conservative Muslims, especially in the West and West Asia, however, secular critics accuse him of promoting a political form of Islam.