A French judge decided Tuesday to keep Tariq Ramadan, one of Europe's most prominent Islamic scholars, in custody after indicting him on Friday on charges of raping two women.
The judge, who has not been identified, said he had taken the decision "to prevent any pressure on witnesses and victims."
No date has yet been announced for the trial of Ramadan, who is accused of carrying out the assaults in 2009 and 2012. The Egyptian-Swiss expert, who has taken a leave of absence from his post as professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years if convicted
Legal analysts and judicial sources close to the case say investigating judges face an uphill battle, dealing with a case based on testimonies of three individuals but little material evidence.
Ramadan's lawyers have countered claims by one of the women, known only as "Christelle," to have met with Ramadan in the early afternoon of October 9, 2009. They say a reservation for a London-Lyon flight shows that Ramadan would only have arrived in France after six in the evening on that date.
The lawyers also protested on procedural grounds the fact the flight reservation was only presented to the judge on the day their client was indicted.
Christelle, a disabled 40-year-old French woman who converted to Islam, said she had developed a relationship with Ramadan via social media before they met in Lyon in October 2009. In a hotel room there, she alleges, Ramadan hit and raped her.
Last week she testified before a judge for several hours, in Ramadan's presence.
Christelle described a scar in Ramadan's groin area which she says she would only have seen in a close contact situation. For his part Ramadan reportedly admitted the existence of the scar but denied any sexual relationship with her.
After the confrontation the judge ruled that Ramadan should be remanded in custody. Legal experts following the case say he was likely concerned that as a Swiss national the accused could flee and avoid the trial as Switzerland does not extradite its citizens and he faces no charges in that country.
The other accuser is Henda Ayari, a 40-year-old French woman of North African descent, who accused Ramadan of raping her in a Paris hotel in 2012.
She said the incident occurred during a congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, at which Ramadan was a keynote speaker. Ayari told French media outlets earlier the academic had invited her to his hotel for a talk, but once there "he literally pounced on me like a wild animal."
Since the alleged rape, Ayari says she divorced her Salafist husband and became a women's rights activist.
After she posted a tweet last October alleging rape and naming Ramadan, the Paris public prosecutor opened a preliminary inquiry.
Ramadan admits to having flirted with Ayari online, but says he met her only briefly in the hotel lobby. His lawyers have submitted as evidence various documents aimed at discrediting her claims.
Ramadan's only two public comments since the accusations were first aired were in statements posted online last October, when he denounced what he called a "campaign of slander" initiated by his "enemies."
A spokesman for the Swiss Muslim community told Geneva's Le Tempsnewspaper last week that whatever the outcome of the legal proceedings, he could not see how Ramadan "could again become the emblem of Islamic pride and renewal that he claimed to be during his public interventions."
Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al Banna, the founder of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. For years the U.S. government denied him a visa until the Obama administration lifted the ban in 2010.