Tariq Ramadan’s case: The infringement of human rights under legal disguise.
Thursday August 23 2018
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, several political and public figures have been accused of rape in France, among whom figures the global intellectual, professor Tariq Ramadan. In all the cases, the presumed offenders have categorically denied their allegations. The accusations are similar, the claims to innocence are similar, but the ways in which these rape cases are treated is not: while the other accused French personalities have been given their right to the presumption of innocence, Tariq Ramadan has not. Instead, he has been presumed guilty and immediately incarcerated in pre-trial detention. Tariq Ramadan’s treatment of exception exemplifies the double standards of the French criminal justice system toward Muslims. These discriminatory dealings and the deafening silence of the international community must be challenged.
Without doubt, allegations of rape must be taken with the utmost seriousness. It is also expected that, during the judicial processing, both the accuser and the defendant are protected from calumny. However, an overwhelming number of media outlets seem to already have judged Tariq Ramadan. This is in spite of the weakened evidence offered by the presumed victims. The first accuser, Henda Ayari, gave a series of testimonials that were riddled with inconsistencies, which she blames on a weak memory. Further, she has been described by a sworn agent in his police statement, as well as by the activist Gamal Abina in an interview, and by her own son during his court hearing, as a manipulative mythomaniac. The testimonial brought by second accuser, Paule Emma Aline, a right-wing political activist, is also marked by inconsistencies. The accusations of the third accuser, Mounia Rabbouj, the ex-escort girl who filed similar complaint against Dominique Strauss-Khan in 2015, have been dismissed entirely on the grounds of being false. The point is not to defame the accusers and to cast suspicion about their testimonies, but to show that their accusations do not warrant Tariq Ramadan’s pre-trial detention. However, in spite of the absence of strong evidence, the courts have rejected repeated requests to liberate Tariq Ramadan until trial.
Since 2014, Tariq Ramadan has been diagnosed with serious neurological illnesses. At the start of his detention, Dr. Farid Mehareb, the prison’s chief doctor, affirmed that Ramadan’s precarious health condition was incompatible with detention. However, this medical judgment was initially ignored, and Ramadan was kept in imprisoned. As a result, his health quickly degraded and demanded repeated hospitalization. Since then, he has lost proper control of his lower body and has painful dysesthesia. He can no long walk without assistance. He is losing control of his arms and can no longer write. He suffers from intense and constant headaches that prevent him from sleeping. He has difficulties concentrating and suffers from memory loss. Despite his deteriorating physical condition and against the warnings stated in his medical evaluation, the court has maintained his incarceration.
French judges have justified Ramadan’s detention on the following basis: (1) Ramadan will flee to another country upon release; (2) He will intimidate his accusers; And (3) he might repeat the offence for which he is accused.
These reasons are unfounded. Ramadan voluntarily presented himself to the police when summoned by authorities to do so. Why would he flee now when he could have fled earlier? Why would Ramadan intimidate his accusers when he has publicly condemned his followers from doing so? And how can he be assumed to repeat an offence except if you deny him the presumption of innocence?
Since its opening, Tariq Ramadan’s case is being handled by public prosecutor Francois Molins, an anti-terror specialist. And since the beginning, Ramadan has been treated in ways usually reserved for terrorist suspects: He is kept in isolation, deprived of any human contact for an average of 23 hours per day. During this one hour per day he often has to choose between his meal, a phone call or a tour with his walking frame. For each displacement, the prison’s corridors are cleared, and he is escorted by heavily armed masked guards. His isolation is akin to solitary confinement (cellule disciplinaire). According to the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, “regardless of the term used, an individual who is deprived of meaningful contact with others is considered to be in solitary confinement”. Solitary confinement, according to the United Nations, is considered a practice of torture. UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, specifies in a report that “indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should be subject to an absolute prohibition” due to the scientifically proven “lasting mental damage” it causes. Dr. Méndez also notes that in isolation “some individuals will experience serious health problems regardless of specific conditions of time, place, and pre-existing personal factors”. It is important to note that Tariq Ramadan, with his documented neurological condition, is kept in isolation with solitary confinement-like conditions for the past seven months. For comparison purposes, in Guantánamo Bay, the US terrorist detention center, solitary confinement is used as a form of punishment and only allowed for a continuous period of 30 days.
If Professor Ramadan is kept in detention today in spite of weak accusations and deteriorating health conditions, and tortured and treated like a terrorist suspect, it cannot be solely because of the offences for which he is accused. When we compare the handling of his case with that of other individuals charged with similar accusations, we can more fully appreciate the legal injustices and shortcomings committed against the professor. This differential treatment raises questions about the motives behind his preemptive incarceration. Why would a “rapist” be detained and prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws? The answer is that Tariq Ramadan represents a threat.
Tariq Ramadan is one of the most influential Muslim leaders in the western world. Drawing from scripture (Quran) and sacred texts (Sunnah), he calls for Muslims to emancipate themselves through the rethinking of Islamic practice, which for him involves exercising full-citizenship and working to improve social issues. As a result of his teaching, Ramadan has inspired and empowered many Muslims across the world. He encourages an increasingly vocal and influential Muslim population capable of challenging western foreign and domestic policies. Ultimately, Ramadan’s teachings have political implications and therefore have generated political adversaries. These adversaries have been found to have links with the accusers, which makes suspect the accusations being leveled against him. This makes Tariq Ramadan a political prisoner.
What we can do
We must take a stand against Tariq Ramadan’s mistreatment by the French judicial system and demand for an immediate restoration of his human rights. An open letter has already been signed by public figures, activists, intellectuals, academics and politicians. However, we must continue to show support and ask for due process in Ramadan’s case. We are advocating for (1) him to be granted the presumption of innocence, (2) fair medical treatment and (3) immediate halt of his pre-trial detention. We must continue to raise awareness via social media and apply pressure to those who can help us influence this case.