GENEVA (AFP): A Swiss court on Wednesday found Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan not guilty of rape and sexual coercion in a Geneva hotel 15 years ago, with his accuser immediately indicating she would appeal.
The court also decided to compensate the former Oxford University professor for his legal costs, awarding him up to 151,000 Swiss francs ($167,000), but rejecting his claim for moral damages.
“The accused must have the benefit of the doubt,” Yves Maurer-Cecchini, the president of the Geneva Criminal Court, said, citing a lack of evidence, contradictory testimonies and “love messages” sent by the plaintiff after the alleged assault.
“Tariq Ramadan must be acquitted.”
Following the verdict, the 60-year-old Swiss academic — a charismatic yet controversial figure in European Islam — smiled and hugged one of his daughters.
Ramadan’s 57-year-old accuser — identified only under the assumed name of “Brigitte” due to her concerns for her safety — left the courtroom before the end of the verdict was read out.
Her lawyers said they would appeal against the ruling.
“This deeply unfair decision is the reflection of a caricatural hearing from which dignity was absent and where the word of my client was neither heard nor respected,” lawyer Francois Zimeray told AFP.
Ramadan left the court surrounded by his relatives, smiling but without commenting.
“It is a verdict inspired by reason,” said his Swiss lawyer Yael Hayat.
His French lawyer Philippe Ohayon told AFP: “Too many implausibilities and contradictions led to a perfectly logical acquittal in fact and in law.”
Prosecutors had been seeking a three-year sentence for Ramadan, half of which would have been served behind bars.
Both parties agreed that Ramadan and Brigitte, a convert to Islam, spent the night together in the hotel room.
The indictment accused Ramadan of sexual coercion and of committing rape three times during the night.
The lawyer representing Brigitte said she was repeatedly raped and subjected to “torture and barbarism.”
Ramadan said that Brigitte invited herself up to his room. He let her kiss him, before quickly ending the encounter. He said he was the victim of a “trap.”
Brigitte was in her forties at the time of the alleged assault. She filed a complaint 10 years later, telling the court she felt emboldened to come forward following similar complaints filed against Ramadan in France.
In its ruling, the Geneva court found Brigitte’s account was “generally constant and detailed.”
However, it was not corroborated “by any material element, such as traces of semen or blood, security camera footage from the hotel or findings of traumatic injuries or gynaecological violence.”
“There is no doubt that the complainant felt like she had a bad experience that evening,” the president of the court said, but “the existence of this stress (…) does not make it possible to confirm the materiality of the alleged facts.”
Controversial among secularists who see him as a supporter of political Islam, Ramadan obtained a doctorate from the University of Geneva, with a thesis focused on his grandfather, who founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.
He was a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford and held visiting roles at universities in Qatar and Morocco.
He was forced to take a leave of absence in 2017 when rape allegations surfaced in France at the height of the “Me Too” movement.
In France, he is suspected of committing rape against four women, between 2009 and 2016.
The Paris prosecutor’s office requested his referral to an assize court in July. Judges will decide whether or not to proceed with a trial.
Asked about any impact the Geneva case might have on the French file, his lawyer Hayat, said: “We simply hope that this verdict will resonate.”