LYON, France, May 22 (AFP) – A Muslim cleric at the center of a controversial French campaign against radical Islam returned to France on Saturday after being deported last month for publicly justifying wife-beating and polygamy.
Abdelkader Bouziane was handed a judge’s summons as soon as he stepped off the plane in the southeastern city of Lyon from the capital of his native Algeria, police said.
“My client is delighted to be with his family once again and will wait calmly until his summoning before the judge to offer explanations”, his lawyer Mahmoud Hebia said.
Bouziane, 52, was the first imam to be deported this year under an interior ministry directive to expel those who preach fundamentalism to some of France’s five million Muslims.
The move came after Bouziane, who preaches in a mosque in a Lyon suburb, gave an interview to a local magazine in which he endorsed wife-beating, declared he was polygamous and expressed the wish that “the entire world become Muslim.”
State prosecutors also launched an inquiry following the Lyon Mag article into Bouziane’s “justification of a crime and direct provocation.”
But an administrative tribunal ruled the April 24 expulsion illegal, since he was never charged with a crime and not allowed to defend himself, and the imam was granted a return visa from Algiers.
The case has proved an embarrassment to the government, which has deported several other imams before but mainly because they urged a jihad, or holy war, against the West.
Shortly after Bouziane’s deportation, a Turkish director of a Paris mosque – 45-year-old Mihdat Guler – was detained for being a threat to public order and accused of leading the extremist Turkish Islamist movement Kaplanci. He was expelled on May 20.
Following the high-profile arrests, Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin pledged to press ahead with the deportation of radical Muslim clerics, while officials sought to reassure leaders of the Muslim community – the largest in Europe – they did not intend to undermine the community as a whole.
President Jacques Chirac has also said that the government could modify legislation of the expulsion of foreigners in order to avoid the legal scuttle that has returned Bouziane to France.
“If we have to… modify the law so as not to have other cases of this sort, which are unacceptable to us, we shall modify the law to enable us to expel people who make this kind of statement,” Chirac said in late April.
“The arguments which it seems this imam put forward are unacceptable, totally to be condemned. They are an attack on human rights and we cannot therefore allow to be put forward in our country.”
Bouziane’s lawyer said Saturday that the imam would challenge the reliability of the article in Lyon Mag which sparked the controversy.
“Mr. Bouziane contests the passages which caused trouble or infuriated women in France, for he was only making reference to the Koran“, he said.
Bouziane, who believes in adhering to a literal interpretation of the Koran, “has never stopped repeating that Muslims in France should respect French law”, the lawyer said.
Nevertheless, his client was “ready to apologize” even though he remained “stunned that he is accused of inciting hatred”.
The imam left Lyon airport Saturday by a side door, avoiding many reporters awaiting his arrival. He had been granted a visa to return on May 16.
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