French-bashing is one of the few pleasures still allowed in Europe nowadays, and it seems a bit unkind to deprive you of it. Sadly, a recent piece, by Peter Oborne, accuses the entire French justice system of treating Tariq Ramadan, the sometime academic, stealth Islamist, serial liar and alleged rapist, like a latter-day hero from Les Misérables, supposedly "rotting" in a French jail as a victim of the complete "abandonment of due process". Not quite.
Ramadan, the grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna, pretends to be "moderate". Yet he has recently argued that FGM, for instance, is a cultural tradition of Muslims, or that corporal punishments including stoning of adulterous women in Islam ought to be the object of a "moratorium" to examine their implications (rather than banned). British Prime Minister Tony Blair apparently bought into the fiction that here was the kind of westernised Muslim he needed on an advisory board to his government; and Ramadan got a Qatar-financed chair of sorts at Oxford.
Early in 2018, Ramadan got caught in a #MeToo tsunami, with woman after woman coming forward to explain in strikingly similar terms how he used them for rough sex and threatened them afterwards should they dare to talk about it. (He denies the rough part; he has admitted to having sex with at least five of these women; and he has also admitted in judicial hearings that he has forked out €27,000 in hush money to his Belgian accuser.)
(Ramadan image source: Internaz/Flickr)
To begin with, even "the French police" cannot "deny bail" to someone they arrest, as the article claims; a magistrate does that, for a list of seven possible reasons laid out in Article 144 of the Code de Procédure pénale. The magistrate's decision can be challenged and was, quite normally, by Tariq Ramadan's counsel, Yassine Bouzrou, in front of three new judges. These judges collectively decided, in view of the material gathered by the investigators, that there was indeed good cause to prevent Mr Ramadan from possibly tampering with the evidence (paragraph 1 of Art. 144); intimidating witnesses, victims or their families (paragraph 2); preventing him from fleeing France and French justice, especially as he has no official ties here (paragraph 5); or being the cause of "exceptional and persistent" public unrest, possibly due to the gravity or notoriety of the crimes of which he stands accused (paragraph 7).
Bouzrou subsequently left the case; Ramadan's new lawyer, Maître Emmanuel Marsigny, appealed the earlier decision, which was duly confirmed by three more judges in the Court of Appeals in Paris. They, too, ruled that Ramadan should remain in custody. This is in no way extraordinary: "Most indictments in cases of rape leads to preventive custody," one gendarme investigator told me.
No, the "police" did not throw "Ramadan into solitary confinement -- an indignity usually reserved for arch criminals". The decision to give him a cell to himself (a great favour in overcrowded French jails) at two separate French jails, first Fleury-Mérogis, then at Fresnes prison -- and not to be confused with an isolation cell on a specific floor -- was made by the prison authorities, following established guidelines. In the instance of Ramadan, it was likely to protect him from possible attacks from other detainees.
In Oborne's article, we are then dramatically told that Tariq Ramadan was "until recently... denied phone calls and visits from his wife and children." In fact, you are not entitled to either telephone rights or visitors for the first month of preventive custody, especially if, as is the case here, your wife is a witness in the investigation.
Pulling at the heartstrings, the article also tells us that Ramadan has "plunged into ill health". Despite a string of horrendous afflictions and "several" admissions to hospital, Ramadan, we learn, was declared fit for detention "in fewer than 20 minutes" by a "court-appointed doctor" who contradicted the view of a prison doctor.
The economy with the truth here is staggering. Ramadan's various visits to excellent Paris teaching hospitals were actually mandated by two medical experts listed with the Court of Appeals, which commissioned them when his lawyer sought to get his client freed. Ramadan underwent, at the République's expense, medical tests to determine that he did indeed suffer from multiple sclerosis but that it was non-evolutive (also known as "the benign form of MS"); and that he did not suffer, as he claimed, from sensory axonal neuropathy. It is possible that it did take under 20 minutes to let him know of the experts' decision reached after the above lengthy medical process of discovery, although Maître Eric Morain, the barrister for one of the accusers, says even that length is subject to doubt.
The article then quotes "the famed French lawyer Régis de Castelnau", who supposedly called "the abandonment of due process in Ramadan's case 'severe and constant'." Except that he did not. Having read the article linked to in The Spectator piece, and not found these exact words or meaning in it, I called Castelnau (whom I know slightly in his other incarnation as an excellent journalist) in his Provence retreat (he has recently resigned from his full-time law practice), and we had a charming conversation to a background of chirping cicadas (his end). He said that very soon after Ramadan's arrest -- and at the height of the #MeToo backlash -- he wrote this article, in which he told of his fear that an electronic lynching could be taking the place of due process. He reminded his readers that whatever his personal opinion of Tariq Ramadan, the latter was entitled, as is any other accused, to the presumption of innocence. "It was early in the case; nobody knew what evidence had been gathered; I had misgivings, and wrote them," he said.
Castelnau also made a careful distinction between the investigating magistrates, and the investigators (police judiciaire) whose enthusiasm in the course of their work has been known to lead to some drastic corner-cutting. The magistrates and judges were never in his sights; indeed, he noted, the very visibility of the Ramadan case guaranteed that they would be especially careful with the way they conducted their work. "You can't be seen as a cowboy in such a case," he pointed out.
Almost immediately, Castelnau's column was quoted in a blog by Tariq Ramadan's brother, the Islamist preacher Hani Ramadan, purporting to show that a miscarriage of justice had been perpetrated in France, and spread worldwide. "I let them quote me; they were my words," Castelnau said, "but I also contacted Marsigny (Ramadan's lawyer), saying I'd welcome more information in order to follow the case better, and perhaps to write more" if an injustice was being committed.
"Silence," he said, over the cicadas. "Nothing. I called twice. He never got back to me." He sounded a bit miffed. "I concluded they had nothing more in the way of evidence to give me."
Meanwhile, more was coming out: more women, more accusations -- while the Twitter fracas was abating. "It seemed obvious that members of Ramadan's community were quietly dropping him," Castelnau said. "Not all of them; he's got some fierce defenders. But really, these days, in France? You don't hear that many people mentioning the case." His early misgivings, he said, no longer existed: he was confident Tariq Ramadan would get due process.
This is bound to disappoint the well-funded Team Ramadan (they have collected a kitty estimated at €100,000 to cover Ramadan's legal costs), who have seized on any likely detail of the proceedings to suit their ends. Peter Oborne triumphantly announces in his piece that a few days ago, "the first time Ramadan was allowed to appear before them," the investigative magistrates "dismissed the allegations of the third claimant". This, he declares, quoting Ramadan's new lawyer, Marsigny, is a "turning point."
Up to a "turning point". The remark actually refers to Ramadan's second, not initial, judicial hearing; during this latest session, a decision for a further indictment of Tariq Ramadan, based on the claims of one of his accusers, Mounia Rabbouj, was suspended: the hearing had almost entirely been taken up by the case of the other two accusers. The next hearing has been set in July, in which Ramadan may well be slapped with that third indictment, for one, or several of, the nine rapes Ms Rabbouj accuses him of during 2013-2014. Ramadan denies the allegations.
Oborne, in his article, also fails to mention damning inconsistencies in Tariq Ramadan's defence, such as Ramadan's claim that he arrived at a conference in Lyon late in the day on October 9, 2009. The date is a key line of his defence, given that "Christelle" (not her real name) claimed that one of the rapes had taken place earlier in the day. This allegation was demolished by investigators from the Deuxième Division de la Police Judiciaire de Paris, who tracked down the BA morning flight manifest of the plane Ramadan did take, and interrogated conference organisers who admitted they had fetched Ramadan in the morning from Lyon Airport.
In addition, during Ramadan's last hearing with the investigative magistrates on June 5, he finally admitted that he did, in fact, have sex with those women: Mounia Rabbouj, the Swiss "Denise", the Belgian "Majda", and two more women who are giving evidence "sous X", which in French law means they are speaking to the investigative magistrates on condition of anonymity.
Let us, for a moment, forget, as it is not actionable in the current cases, Ramadan's complete fabrication of having been a tenured professor at Freiburg University in Switzerland when he was in fact only a freelance lecturer. (The university, somewhat sheepishly, eventually admitted this mishap.)
Oborne then accused French justice of blatant anti-Muslim discrimination, stating that Cabinet ministers can be the subject of rape and sexual assault allegations and yet never end up in jail. We hear of the budget secretary, Gérald Darmanin, and the environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, who "unlike Ramadan... await their fate in freedom." Except in those cases, the accusations look in no way remotely similar to the corroborating testimonies heard from half a dozen women in Ramadan's case. (There is a distinctly #MeToo quality to the successive statements, all listing the same sado-masochistic demands and brutalities mentioned by Peter Oborne at the beginning of his piece. "Matching testimonies are a key feature of credible rape accusations," explains the experienced Paris criminal lawyer Alexandre-M. Braun.)
The allegation -- there were not even charges, just a press interview -- against Hulot was dropped because the alleged crime took place beyond the statute of limitations. Darmanin was accused by a former call girl of rape but, after an investigation, the charges were also dropped. Both cases are clearly not comparable to the Ramadan case. It is also worth flagging up Oborne's reference to the two ministers as having been the subject of a mise en garde, or early investigations. In fact, no such animal exists in French law (garde à vue is interrogation in custody after an arrest; mise en examen is indictment; neither of which happened to either Hulot or Darmanin).
Then, of course, comes the trump card: all the accusers are supposedly Islamophobes. "Christelle" is accused of founding a pro-Marine Le Pen website, which her lawyer denies. Henda Ayari, a former Salafist, is dismissed as a hater of her former religion, as if this were proof enough of her putting herself through the current judicial ordeal. Both have received death and rape threats; another Ramadan accuser has apparently been severely beaten up near her home.
Others ostensibly conspire to destroy Ramadan, precisely because he "unflinchingly" calls out France's supposed Islamophobia. Except the conspiracy mentality rather comically pops up on the wrong side: "Why...was Ramadan's case moved from Rouen... to Paris, where the chief prosecutor is François Molins, not an expert in rape but a preeminent counter-terrorist, known by many in France as the 'prosecutor of French jihadists'?" This, to borrow Boris Johnsons's famous phrase, is an inverted pyramid of piffle. Well, because it just so happens, François Molins, the Paris prosecutor, ultimately oversees all cases in the French capital; and because there is no specialised terrorism court in Paris (and Molins is on record as saying it would be a bad idea to separate those investigations from normal justice proceedings), he has, indeed, overseen some high profile terrorism cases. He has not interfered in the Ramadan case, just as he does not in the thousands of cases brought in Paris every year.
There would be ever more nits to pick, but at some stage rebuttal fatigue sets in. Oborne's rather spectacular pile of tendentious inaccuracies ends by referencing a petition supporting Ramadan. It was started by Ramadan's usual Paris acolytes of the hard-left investigative website Médiapart and a handful of British academics who supported Ramadan's elevation to a teaching post at Oxford, and may feel they need to protect their investment. They, like the good Swiss at Freiburg University, above, should cut their losses.
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet is a columnist for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph (London), and a co-founder, vice-president of the Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Paris and a Distinguished Senior Fellow of Gatestone Institute.