Prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan is denying sexual assault allegations by two French women, one of whom has reportedly been targeted for insults and even death threats.
The complaints about the Swiss-born Ramadan, Oxford University professor of Islamic studies, were made in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse revelations, which sparked a series of similar allegations in France, including some from actresses relating to Weinstein.
A group of women launched a website allowing victims of sexual harassment or assault to post testimonials and interact with each other.
Among those going public with their accusations was Henda Ayari, a 40-year-old French woman of North African descent, who accused Ramadan of raping her in a Paris hotel in 2012.
The alleged incident occurred, she said, during a congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, at which Ramadan was a keynote speaker.
She told French media outlets he invited her to his hotel for a discreet talk, but once there "he literally pounced on me like a wild animal."
Ayari filed a complaint at the prosecutor's office in her hometown, Rouen, alleging charges of rape, sexual assault, willful violence, harassment and intimidation.
"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," said her lawyer, Jonas Haddad.
A second woman – not identified by name but reportedly a convert to Islam – has claimed that Ramadan raped her in a hotel in Lyon in 2009. She has reportedly provided medical certificates to prosecutors in Paris, and the prosecutor's office confirmed an investigation is underway.
Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan al Banna – the founder of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood – was denied a visa to the U.S. for years until the Obama administration lifted the ban in 2010.
He responded to the rape allegations in a Facebook post denying the accusations, claiming to be the target of a campaign of slander launched by known enemies. He did not name them.
Ramadan said his lawyers have filed a complaint for slanderous denunciation.
"We expect a long and bitter fight," he said. "I am serene and determined."
In a statement on Thursday, Ramadan's lawyers Yassine Bouzrou and Julie Grenier said they have expressly advised their client not to make any statements notwithstanding the "orchestrated media campaign of interviews and accusatory articles."
"We will take all appropriate legal action against those who violate our client's presumption of innocence."
Ramadan's supporters have been defending him in newspapers and social media.
Ayari says she has received death threats on her Facebook account and has been accused of collaborating with far-right or Zionist groups to bring down the Muslim intellectual.
Ayari's public accusations against so public a figure have put her in the media spotlight.
Ayari says she married a strict Salafist Muslim when she was 21, and for nine years lived a reclusive life, covered from head to toe, before she got a divorce and started studying.
She became a secular activist, and in 2015 launched an anti-extremist, secular organization aimed at helping women, called Libératrices (The Liberators).
Late last year Ayari published a memoir which refers to the earlier rape, which she said occurred after she left her husband and the Salafist way of life.
In the book, she named her assailant as "Zoubeyr."
"I never wanted to give his [real] name, because I received threats from him in case I would denounce him," she wrote on her Facebook page. "I was afraid. I devoted an entire chapter of my book on him and many people contacted me to have my testimony because they had guessed. I confirm it today, that the famous Zoubeyr, it's Tariq Ramadan."