Tariq Ramadan arriving at the Geneva courthouse on Monday to face rape charges
Tariq Ramadan arriving at the Geneva courthouse on Monday to face rape charges AFP

The Swiss Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan went on trial at a Geneva criminal court Monday charged with "rape and sexual coercion", allegations which the former Oxford University professor denies.

Ramadan arrived shortly after 8:30 am (0630 GMT) at the Geneva courthouse, where security had been visibly boosted as members of the public streamed in to watch the highly anticipated trial.

The Swiss complainant, who says she has faced threats and therefore wishes to be known under the assumed name of "Brigitte" during the trial, was in her 40s at the time of the alleged attack, which dates back almost 15 years.

Ramadan, 60, is accused of having subjected her to brutal sexual acts accompanied by beatings and insults on the evening of October 28, 2008, in a Geneva hotel room.

Brigitte filed a complaint with the Geneva courts in April 2018.

The Swiss intellectual, a charismatic yet controversial figure in European Islam, could face two to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Contacted by AFP, one of his French lawyers, Philippe Ohayon, declined to comment ahead of the trial, which is expected to last two to three days.

The verdict will be delivered on May 24, the Geneva courts told AFP, and Ramadan will be able to appeal if convicted.

Controversial among secularists who see him as a supporter of political Islam, Ramadan obtained his doctorate from the University of Geneva, with his thesis focused on his grandfather, who founded Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement.

He was a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Britain's prestigious Oxford University until November 2017, and held visiting roles at universities in Qatar and Morocco.

He was forced to take a leave of absence when rape allegations surfaced in France at the height of the "Me Too" movement, over suspected attacks in France between 2009 and 2016.

The Swiss investigation moved slowly, as Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris and could not be questioned by the Swiss authorities.

After he was released in November 2018, he was put on probation and barred from leaving France.

However, he has exceptional authorisation to cross the border and venture a few kilometres into Swiss territory for the Geneva trial.

A convert to Islam, Brigitte told investigators she had met Ramadan at a book signing a few months before the night of October 28, 2008, and then again at a conference in September that year.

They shared an increasingly intimate correspondence on social networks, and on the evening of the alleged events, she joined him at his hotel in Geneva.

According to the indictment, he is accused of committing rape three times during the night, and "sexual coercion" to the point of suffocation. Ramadan denies the allegations.

"This trial is an ordeal for my client, not a therapy," the woman's French lawyer Francois Zimeray, a former diplomat and human rights specialist, told AFP.

"She is waiting for recognition of the suffering that has accompanied her for 15 years and which she has made it a painful duty to reveal."

"She expects a difficult, painful confrontation but she is ready for it, convinced that this fight is a duty for her as much as an ordeal," he added.