Paris (CNSNews.com) – Tariq Ramadan, one of Europe's best-known Islamic scholars, has come face to face in a court in Paris with one of several women who accuse him of raping them in hotel rooms on the sidelines of conferences on Islam.
In keeping with the French legal system, Ramadan and the 45-year-old woman identified only as Christelle appeared with their lawyers before three investigating judges, during a closed, eight-hour session described by the woman's lawyer, Eric Morain, as a bitter confrontation, "during which the two parties stood firm in their positions."
Ramadan, the Swiss-born grandson of the Egyptian cleric who founded the Muslim Brotherhood 90 years ago, stands accused of raping Christelle and two other women between 2009 and 2014. He has been in custody in France since last February, and his lawyers this week again sought his release pending the continuing trial.
The 56-year-old professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University – on a leave of absence since last November – could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years if convicted.
During the court hearing Christelle, a French woman who converted to Islam, said she had developed an association with Ramadan via social media before they met in October 2009 in Lyon, where she was attending a conference at which he was a keynote speaker.
She repeated her earlier description of a scar in Ramadan's groin area which she claimed could only have been seen in a close contact situation.
Ramadan's lawyer, Emmanuel Marsigny, dismissed that claim, saying a description of the scar could have been obtained from former mistresses of the scholar.
Ramadan admitted flirting with Christelle via social media but denied having sex with her, saying he had merely seen her for 20 to 30 minutes in the lobby of the hotel.
"Mr. Tariq Ramadan maintained firmly his position: He never had any sexual relations with this complainant," Marsigny said after the session ended.
Ramadan changed lawyers last March after a reported falling-out with his previous counsel.
At a previous appearance, last February, investigating judges decided he should remain in custody pending the actual trial, for which dates have yet to be set.
His lawyers have pressed for release on bail, pointing to the fact he has multiple sclerosis. But judges were concerned the Swiss citizens could leave France and may also apply pressure on his accusers to change their testimonies.
At this week's hearing his lawyers filed a third application for release, and Marsigny voiced hope afterwards that his client would be freed. A decision is expected within the coming days.
Ramadan's original accuser, Henda Ayari, claims he raped her in a Parisian hotel in 2012, also during an Islamic conference at which Ramadan was a keynote speaker.
(Ramadan was frequently featured at conferences for French Muslims. Critics have accused him of promoting fundamentalist Islam, anti-Semitism, and advocating violence against women, and some French mayors have banned conferences at which he was scheduled to speak.)
Ayari, a 42-year-old French woman of North African descent, told French media outlets earlier that he invited her to his hotel for a discreet talk, but then "literally pounced on me like a wild animal."
She filed an official complaint against him last October, and had her in-court confrontation with Ramadan in July. Ramadan denies her claims too.
A third accuser is a 40-year-old woman known as Marie, who accuse the scholar of rape, violence, threats and blackmail, in 2013 and 2014.
The claims in this case are different. Marie reportedly worked as an escort, and Ramadan does not deny having sex with her. Marsigny said he does dispute her version of events, but provided no further information.
Adding to Ramadan's troubles, a 50-year-old Swiss woman – also a convert to Islam – is also accusing him of rape and wants Switzerland to prosecute him for rape and for having held her against her will for several hours in a Geneva hotel room in 2008.
A hearing in that case is scheduled to be held in Paris next month.
Ramadan was denied a visa to travel to the U.S. for years, a prohibition which stymied plans to take up a position at the University of Notre Dame in 2004.
In first revoking his visa, the Bush administration cited a provision of the Patriot Act allowing the barring of foreigners who are found to have used a "position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity, or to persuade others to support terrorist activity or a terrorist organization."
The Obama administration lifted the ban in 2010.