Defence pleads for Islamic scholar's acquittal at Swiss rape trial

·3-min read
Tariq Ramadan had special permission to leave France for the trial in Switzerland
Tariq Ramadan had special permission to leave France for the trial in Switzerland

Tariq Ramadan's lawyers pleaded Wednesday for the controversial Islamic scholar to be acquitted, on the third and final day of his trial in Geneva on charges of rape and sexual coercion.

Prosecutors are seeking a three-year sentence for the former Oxford University professor, half served in jail and the other half suspended.

"I'm only looking for one thing and that's to convince you that Tariq Ramadan is innocent," his lawyer Yael Hayat told the Geneva Criminal Court, calling the allegations against the Swiss intellectual "crazy".

The 60-year-old is accused of raping a woman -- a convert to Islam who appeared in court under the assumed name of Brigitte -- in a Geneva hotel room in October 2008.

Ramadan, a charismatic yet controversial figure in European Islam, insists there was no sexual activity between him and Brigitte, saying he is the victim of a "trap".

But her lawyer denounced what he called an act of "torture and barbarism", as he sought to convince the judges to convict Ramadan.

During his final statements in court, Ramadan asked not to be tried on his "real or supposed ideology" and urged the judges not to be "influenced by the media and political noise".

"Forget I'm Tariq Ramadan!" he said.

The judges will deliver their verdict on May 24.

Controversial among secularists who see him as a supporter of political Islam, Ramadan obtained his doctorate from the University of Geneva, with his thesis focused on his grandfather, who founded Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement.

He was a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Britain's prestigious Oxford University until November 2017, and held visiting roles at universities in Qatar and Morocco.

He was forced to take a leave of absence when rape allegations surfaced in France at the height of the "Me Too" movement, over suspected attacks in France between 2009 and 2016.

- 'Ramadanphobia' -

"Brigitte" was in her forties at the time of the alleged assault in 2008. She filed a complaint 10 years later, she told the court on Tuesday, feeling emboldened to come forward following the complaints filed in France.

Hayat accused these women of having forged links to bring down the Islamic scholar, citing "Ramadanphobia", and warned the judges against the risk of "miscarriage of justice".

Brigitte's lawyer Francois Zimeray said the case goes "beyond rape".

"There are rapists whose instincts are satisfied through the suffering of their victim. This is the case of Tariq Ramadan," he said, calling the scholar a "manipulative rapist".

Both parties agree that Ramadan and Brigitte spent the night together in the hotel room, which she left early the following morning.

Ramadan insisted that Brigitte invited herself up to his room, then let herself be kissed, before quickly ending the encounter.

The indictment accuses Ramadan of sexual coercion and of committing rape three times during the night.

"She told the truth," Robert Assael, another of Brigitte's lawyers, told the court, adding: "Could such a story be invented with so many details?"

Guerric Canonica, another lawyer for Ramadan, said there were "improbabilities" in Brigitte's testimony which would "rule out any conviction".

"To apply the law is to acquit Tariq Ramadan," he said, in conclusion.