What is happening to Swiss-born Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan in France is disgraceful and simply ignominious. I can no longer maintain my silence before this grotesque travesty of justice.
Since rape charges were filed against him in France, Ramadan’s case has been marred by procedural irregularities. In fact, Ramadan’s mistreatment by the French courts and his virtual public lynching by the French media has been outrageously unfair.
Alain Gabon, Associate Professor of French at Virginia Wesleyan, and others have already detailed the record of persecution and abuse by the French authorities in this case, and more than one hundred prominent academics and scholars have signed a statement demanding fair treatment and due process for Ramadan.
So, why do I write? I write first because, as a Muslim, I am outraged by the embarrassing silence of Muslim organisations and leaders before the undeniable lynching of a prominent Muslim scholar. The same organisations who, at one time, rode on the coattails of Ramadan’s prominence and fame, and that competed for bragging rights by having him on their slate of confirmed speakers in their conferences and symposiums, have now conveniently abandoned him and his family to their plight.
I write because I am deeply troubled about the mockery being made of the presumption of innocence, and because there is substantial evidence that Ramadan is not treated as a suspect facing rape charges, but is effectively a political prisoner being persecuted by his sworn ideological enemies.
Having studied a whole host of criminal cases filed against suspected rapists in France, there is no question that Ramadan’s treatment is not justified by the charges, allegations or investigatory proceedings of the case.
Here is a partial accounting of the irregularities and problems in this case:
1. Tariq Ramadan has been languishing in preventive detention since February of this year. No date for the trial has been set, and it is not even certain whether there will be a trial.
2. Ramadan has been treated as if he were a terrorism suspect. He was placed in solitary confinement; his access to family, attorneys and his own case files were severely restricted; and he was denied mail privileges and any privacy rights.
3. Shockingly, Ramadan was detained for months before being allowed to speak or introduce any exculpatory evidence on his own behalf. Only on June 5 was he finally allowed to offer testimony and evidence in rebuttal. In legal terms, by the terms of his confinement, Ramadan has been placed in disadvantageous circumstances, where his ability to defend himself against the charges are severely restricted. The problem with the imposed restrictions are not just psychological but they constrain the ability of the defendant to conduct research, deliberate with counsel, and launch a vigorous defence against the charges made. Imagine trying to organise a defence against serious charges when you are imprisoned in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, allowed only short sojourns outside your cell, denied access to a library or a computer, denied access to most mail, denied writing and reading material, and denied access to your own case file.
4. Add to this, Ramadan is suffering from multiple sclerosis and it is not an exaggeration to say that the conditions of his confinement are tortuous. They, in fact, have led to a severe deterioration in his health and may even lead to his death. Despite overwhelming medical documentation, the French court has refused to place him in a hospital and to provide him with adequate medical treatment.
5. I am deeply troubled by the way this case has been tried in the court of public opinion. The accusers have widely appeared across the French media telling their stories again and again, while Ramadan, being detained, is unable to respond. The French court could have issued a gag order, prohibiting the accusers from appearing in the media and allowing this case to be litigated out of the public eye. It is fundamentally unfair when one side gets to monopolise media attention, while the other can only respond behind closed doors in a court hearing.
The presumption of innocence means that we must presume a person to be innocent until proven otherwise. This means that the defendant does not bear the burden of proving their innocence. The accusers, whoever they may be, bear the burden of proving guilt. Ramadan, like any other defendant in the world, must be presumed innocent. In other words, he is not a rapist until proven otherwise.
But this is not the way that Ramadan is being treated. His case is being handled as if it is a terrorism-related case, where the suspect’s rights to due process have been severely restricted because of purported national security interests.
Ramadan faces charges of alleged sexual assaults, not terrorism. The court has produced no convincing justifications for all the restrictions placed on him in prison or for refusing to treat him like other defendants facing similar charges, who are released in some supervised capacity until the date of their trial.
Recently the French government arrested a white nationalist group called Action of Operational Forces (AFO) suspected of planning to attack and murder Muslims in France. Some of the members were granted supervised release immediately and none of the AFO defendants has suffered anything even close to what has been inflicted upon Ramadan.
As of now, Ramadan remains detained in solitary confinement and continues to be treated like a terrorism suspect would be treated in France.
Let me state this as clearly as I can: the problem with this case is discrimination – Tariq Ramadan is not being treated like any similarly situated defendant facing the same set of charges.
The French state has exploited the opportunity to come after a Muslim public intellectual who for years has been a thorn in its side. The problem is that, like the Muslim ban which was recently upheld by the US Supreme Court, there is ample evidence of anti-Muslim animus that is being conveniently ignored by the French court.
With every passing day, the Tariq Ramadan affair is looking more and more like a political character assassination. I am forced to wonder what it will take to wake up Muslims to the fact that what is happening with Ramadan is symptomatic of the gross disempowerment and political meekness of Muslims all over Europe.
I must say that I cannot resist the rather gloomy thought that people who do not recognise the importance of rushing to the aid of their brightest and sharpest when they are unfairly treated and denied basic justice will be hard pressed to win the respect of others.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.