Around half a million French people took to the streets over the weekend urging President Emmanuel Macron's government to abandon legislation which would stop the publication of photographs or video images of police officers behaving badly. As we know from recent experience, nothing riles the French more than a threat to their freedom of speech; they never grow tired of citing the nation's motto of liberté, égalité, fraternité, even hypocritically. And so, from Paris to Lyon, despite a Covid-19 lockdown, they felt compelled to protest against a law which they insist will harm press freedom.
Such an uncompromising scrutiny of French police behaviour amid allegations of serious misconduct is commendable. However, I would also urge those protestors to make similar demands for transparency and justice from those tasked with dispensing it in the courts.
I'm thinking in particular of the increasingly questionable treatment of Oxford University Professor Tariq Ramadan. Currently banned from leaving France following allegations of sexual assault, Ramadan's case has dragged on for years, exposing along the way even more French double standards and suggesting very strongly that there is an anti-Muslim agenda at play.
I would not presume to act as judge or jury in this case, so I am not putting a case for Ramadan's guilt or innocence; that would be up to a court to decide in a fair trial. What I find scandalous, though, is that the wheels of justice in France are taking so long to turn. He was forced to take leave of absence from his job in Oxford when the allegations against him first emerged in 2017. In all my years as a journalist, I've never known a case against anyone take so long to get to court, and yet there is still no end in sight for either Ramadan or his accusers.
In the meantime, the French and other media have set about trashing the father of four's international standing and reputation. The once well-respected Islamic scholar has been forced to watch helplessly as the mainstream media and politicians in France have demonised him. I believe that such attacks a lot to do with Ramadan's robust criticism of the rampant Islamophobia in France and the country's foreign policies. However, what about his freedom of speech? Why is that not being protected by the media and politicians?
Treated like some sort of threat to national security, he has already spent time on remand in prison before being released in November 2018. Despite this, he still has to report to the French police once a week while investigations are ongoing. How long this will continue is anyone's guess, but it is fairly clear that the sort of Islamophobia fuelled by Macron recently is very much part and parcel of the establishment in France, and has been for years.
French judges have confirmed to Ramadan's legal team that they want to close the file very soon but… Further delays are now being blamed on the Covid-19 lockdown. If the lawyers are right in their belief that the proceedings were instigated as a way of silencing his criticism, then this is, indeed, a grave injustice.
With much of the evidence falling away and the original allegations dropped, the Swiss-born theologian was indicted in February of this year for the rape of two other women. Nothing has been proven and many of the so-called witnesses have since been discredited.
In an interview with one French newspaper, Ramadan said that he is the victim of "a fierce judicial process." There are, he pointed out, five complaints against him in France, with a sixth in Switzerland. "The complainants lied. Most of these women know each other and are in league with my worst ideological enemies… The first two complainants, who claimed not to know each other, exchanged more than 350 texts with journalist Caroline Fourest [who fiercely opposes Ramadan] six months before and after the complaint."
Paparazzi Jean-Claude Elfassi, another Ramadan critic, has been in contact with at least five complainants, which must surely prove the existence of some sort of a plot against the influential scholar. A recent media expose of Elfassi, who is said to be linked to Israel's far right, appears finally to have prompted the French judiciary to question the photographer. Why has it taken the French authorities nearly three years to do this?
This is a tragic situation for all concerned. Everyone needs closure, so the truth has to come out.
Tariq Ramadan gave an interview earlier this year when he was asked about his extra-marital affairs and if they contradict his Islamic preaching. "I accept my contradictions," he replied. "This behaviour should not have happened. And I apologise to those I have disappointed. I have never presented myself as a paragon of virtue, I have always said that I was a human being with weaknesses, vulnerabilities and injuries. Morality is my business, that of my conscience. Like my relationship with Muslims, it is my business; not yours."
Ramadan and his family are said to remain "positive" about the eventual outcome of his ordeal in France. In 2004, he was among Time magazine's top 100 most influential people in the world. He will be hard pushed to restore his reputation, but I have no doubt that he will work tirelessly to do so. If only the same could be said about the French judiciary.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.