Renowned Islamic studies scholar Tariq Ramadan has been cleared of rape and sexual coercion by a Swiss court.
Mr. Ramadan, who is a Swiss citizen, is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The case was brought by a Swiss woman who said she had been raped by Mr. Ramadan in a Geneva hotel in 2008.
A convert to Islam, and a fan of Mr. Ramadan’s, the woman told the court she had been subjected to brutal sexual assault, beatings, and insults.
She said it happened after she was invited by the Oxford academic for a coffee after a conference.
Mr. Ramadan, who is 60, had faced up to three years in prison if convicted. He denied all the charges but did admit to having met the woman.
The trial was a sharp contrast to the career so far of the man once feted as a “rock star” of Islamic thought.
As Europe struggled with terrorist attacks and rising anti-Muslim feelings, Mr. Ramadan appeared as a voice of reason – condemning terrorism, opposing the death penalty, and even being denied entry to Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Syria, because, he said, he had criticized their lack of democracy.
In 2004 he was voted one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.
In 2007 he became a professor of Islamic studies at St Anthony’s College Oxford. He also had his critics, particularly in France, where a number of leading academics accused him of anti-Semitism.
But in 2017, Mr Ramadan’s meteoric rise ended, when he was accused by a French woman of rape.
When that case became public, more women came forward.
By 2020 he was facing five charges of rape – four in France, and one in Switzerland – and had spent nine months in detention in France before being released on probation. He has consistently denied all the charges against him.
The Swiss case was the first to come to trial, and the atmosphere in the Geneva courtroom was tense.
Mr. Ramadan faced a barrage of cameras as he arrived. His accuser, using the name Brigitte to protect her identity, requested a screen be put up in the courtroom so she would not have to look at the man she claimed raped her.
She described the alleged attack in detail, saying she feared she would die.
Mr. Ramadan admitted to inviting her to his hotel room but denied any form of violence. He said all the accusations against him have been politically motivated and designed to discredit him.
His French and Swiss lawyers also questioned the accusers’ truthfulness, citing inconsistencies around the dates of the alleged attacks.
Mr. Ramadan was supported in that argument by his family. His son Sami, pointing to his father’s “role in the debate about Islam in France,” told the BBC in 2019 that the cases against his father were “motivated by other reasons, which we feel are political.”
That view was backed by dozens of high-profile figures, including American philosopher Noam Chomsky, and British filmmaker Ken Loach, who signed an open letter questioning whether Mr Ramadan was receiving a fair legal process, with the usual presumption of innocence.
In court in Geneva, the prosecution insisted Brigitte could not have invented the alleged attack or have been able to tell it to the judges in such detail.
Mr. Ramadan’s defence lawyer insisted on his innocence, describing the charges against him as “crazy”. In his own remarks to the court, Mr. Ramadan asked not to be tried on his “real or supposed ideology”.
After a week’s deliberation, the three Swiss judges found him innocent.
While he has been cleared in Switzerland, this could be just the first of several trials.
In France, prosecutors are still assessing whether charges brought against Mr. Ramadan should go to court.
He continues to protest his innocence in all the cases and has vowed to clear his name.