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Controversial Muslim scholar wins in court

Ramadan's remarks took him from the classroom into the courts Keystone Archive

A controversial Muslim scholar who was fired from his teaching job after publicly defending death by stoning has won a second victory in a Geneva court.

This content was published on May 20, 2005 - 10:27

However, the cantonal authorities responded by saying Hani Ramadan, who is also director of Geneva’s Islamic Centre, would not be reinstated.

It was the second time the courts have ruled in Ramadan’s favour, saying that his dismissal was unfair and demanding that the cantonal government recognise Ramadan’s status as a public servant and resume paying his salary.

He was dismissed by the cantonal authorities in 2003 a few months after making his remarks in the French newspaper Le Monde.

In the article, the imam defended death by stoning for adultery as set out in Islamic Sharia law. Ramadan also said that believers were protected from being infected with Aids.

Last year, the appeals board had already said that Ramadan was still a public servant, but the government refused to budge and went one step further a few months later by cutting off his salary.

Demands

Ramadan refuses to comment for the time being pending official notification of the government’s position. But his lawyer, Eric Hess, says his client now wants his job as a high school French teacher back.

"He wants nothing less than full reintegration," he told swissinfo.

The attorney believes there is no reason why Ramadan should not have his job back. "The quality of his work was never in question and he was considered an excellent teacher," he added.

Hess reckons the local media have a lot to account for in the affair. "It wasn’t his students who noticed my client’s remarks in Le Monde," he said.

Officials said in 2003 that Ramadan, who had taught for 20 years without any problem, was fired because of the "anti-democratic" nature of his remarks.

Incompatible

An investigation into the affair commissioned by the Geneva authorities found that his role as a religious representative was incompatible with his status as a teacher in a state school.

The canton forbids any overlap between religious and secular authorities. The investigation also highlighted the fact that Ramadan had violated his obligation to refrain from airing controversial views.

The appeals board had, in its first ruling, admitted that the teacher had overstepped the boundaries outlined by state legislation. But it added that firing him was a disproportionate measure, and that there were other ways of disciplining him.

The board’s second decision has not gone down well with the government. Its president, Martine Brunschwig-Graf, said the authorities do not agree with the assessment that Ramadan is still a public servant and a teacher.

For Brunschwig-Graf, he is neither, and the government still refuses to put him back on the payroll. But the authorities say they are prepared to pay him a monthly "indemnity" instead.

They fear that paying Ramadan a salary would be tantamount to admitting that he was still a public servant.

Arbitrary

But Hess says that any funds given to his client would be considered a salary, and he expects all benefits to be paid out in full.

"The government has had an absurd attitude throughout this whole affair," he said. "The decision to cut off my client’s salary in December was arbitrary and had no legal basis, especially since his status as a public servant had been confirmed."

According to the attorney, the authorities have nowhere to run. "They cannot appeal to a higher court," he told swissinfo.

Hess has already warned that if the government does not play ball, he will ask the state prosecutor to intervene.

As to whether some kind of settlement could be negotiated with the authorities, the lawyer also has his doubts.

"The government’s attitude has been to not negotiate until now," he said. "And so far we have had no indication there will be a change of heart."

swissinfo, Scott Capper

Key facts

Hani Ramadan's controversial remarks defending death by stoning appeared in the Le Monde newspaper in 2002.
He was subsequently fired from his job as a French teacher in Geneva.
Islam is Switzerland’s second religion after Christianity.
The Muslim community has more than doubled over the last decade to number 300,000 people.

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