The basis of any justice system is the belief that one is innocent until proven guilty and that every person has the right to a fair trial free of prejudice. Of all the judiciaries in the world, the French would claim theirs is one of the finest. After all it is the country allegedly built on the principles of liberté, egalité and fraternité.
But in reality it would seem that this is far from true, at least in the case of Tariq Ramadan, the renowned Muslim scholar, theologian and civil rights advocate.
Ramadan, a Swiss national and Oxford University professor, has been accused by two women of raping them several years ago. But his defense says that not only are the accusations completely false, the way in which the French prosecution has been treating their client has been oppressive, unjust and inexcusable.
On Thursday a judge decided to renew Ramadan's detention, keeping him locked up in a solitary cell for a fourth consecutive week despite him still being under investigation and not convicted.
In that time, he has not been allowed to see his family, who have been denied visitation rights, and more alarmingly, his health has deteriorated as a result of medical neglect. Ramadan suffers from multiple sclerosis and his doctors as well as a prison doctor who has examined him say his well-being is at risk as a direct result of his prison conditions.
Ramadan reportedly refused to attend the hearing on last Thursday in protest of what he believes is a politicized case brought against him by sections of French society that have for years tried to silence him. His lawyers are now requesting his case be moved out of Paris to another region in France after they lost hope that their client would receive a fair trial with the current magistrate.
What started off with renowned Islamophobe Henda Ayari capitalizing on the media spotlight that was focused on the #metoo campaign, and claiming to have finally mustered the courage to name Ramadan as the man who she alleges raped her in 2012, quickly snowballed into what Ramadan's supporters feel was an almost concerted and orchestrated campaign in the French press to vilify him and deem him guilty before he even faced a jury.
In a country where a woman's right to dress how she wishes is punishable by law – if she is Muslim – where the fascist National Front are the second largest party, and where ministers and senior politicians use the word nigger, it is understandable why many minorities believe that France is institutionally racist.
The other of Ramadan's accusers is "Christelle." She alleges that he raped her in a hotel room in Lyon on the afternoon of Oct. 9, 2009. Ramadan's lawyers have already presented evidence that suggests he was in fact, on a plane some 30,000 feet above the ground at the time. His plane landed in Lyon at 6:35 p.m. that day, and by 8:30 p.m. he was addressing a crowd of hundreds of French men and women who had gathered to hear him talk about coexistence, integration and the civic duties of young Muslims.You would think that a potentially unequivocal alibi would be enough to dismiss the allegation. Not in France. Instead, after police investigators had confirmed to Ramadan's lawyers that they had received the evidence, they failed to investigate it to confirm that he was indeed on that flight, mysteriously the evidence disappeared from the case files. Put that one down to incompetent filing. It has since transpired that "Christelle" met with senior magistrate Michel Debacq and notorious Islamophobe Caroline Fourest in 2009. His lawyers believe the meeting was arranged so that the three could conspire against Ramadan. Debacq, who now serves in the very same court trying Ramadan, never disclosed his previous involvement with "Christelle" or this case, which is illegal, according to French law.Added to these flagrant discrepancies in "Christelle's" case are numerous others, including that she "lost her cellphone" that contained alleged messages from Ramadan that she claims prove her story. It seems convenient that her phone is lost considering the embarrassing situation her co-accuser, Henda Ayari, found herself in when Ramadan's defense team released more than 280 Facebook messages sent by her as proof that it was Ayari who was harassing him.
When confronted with the messages by a French publication, the former-Salafist-turned-Islamophobe admitted that it was an attempt by her to seduce and entrap him. Aside from the outrageously unethical reasoning presented by Ayari, these messages to Ramadan were dated 2014, that is, two full years after Ayari claims Ramadan raped her. Peculiar at the least.
Ramadan's work spans decades. His books and lectures are almost all centered on the central messages of mutual respect among civilizations and cultures, women's empowerment, liberation and justice. For millions around the world, Ramadan was, and still is, that voice of reason that channels anger among marginalized and oppressed Muslim youth into productive action that empowers them and makes them better citizens.
He has always rejected the use of the victim card, despite the fact that today, European Muslims are arguably the continent's most mistreated and misrepresented minority. Maybe that is why he decided to voluntarily fly to France and meet with investigators, since innocent men have nothing to hide. In spite of his cooperation, he is now being held alone in a cell in a high-security prison wing, even though he is yet to be convicted of any crime.
In fact, he offered to pay a 50,000 euro deposit, make daily visits to a police station and hand over his passport to assure police that he had no intention of leaving the country, but that was bizarrely not enough of an assurance for a respected university professor with no criminal record.
While we are used to the rabid Islamophobia and racism peddled by a large section of French media, there are so many holes in the case against Ramadan, and so many discrepancies in the way in which the justice system is dealing with his case that it is a mockery for one to claim that he has been afforded due process.
In the past few months, two senior members of the French government, Gerald Darmanin and Nicolas Hulot, both ministers in President Emanuel Macron's cabinet, were accused of rape, both by two women, as well. Unlike Ramadan, French media gave both of them an opportunity to defend themselves during what many media critics would classify as soft interviews. More alarmingly, however, is the double standard in the way in which the French police dealt with them – neither of them were arrested let alone put in a solitary cell in a maximum-security prison. Both Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe went on record defending them, despite one of them admitting to having sex with his accuser, an escort who says he did not pay but he claims she agreed to sleep with him in exchange for a favor. Let that sink in for a minute.There are those who believe Ramadan is being unjustly treated because of his opposition to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine, which has irked France's powerful Zionist lobby for years. Others believe it is because of his defense of immigrants, and others still who say it is because he is an unapologetic Muslim who refutes anti-Muslim stereotypes and inspires hundreds of thousands of those whom France's political elite considers to be the enemy.
All of that could very well be true, but what the racists and Islamophobes in France do not realize is that Ramadan transcended being simply a man many years ago. Ramadan represents an ideology. One of justice, dignity and empowerment, and jailing him in a politically motivated case will only elevate his status even more.
* Senior correspondent for Al Jazeera English
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