India Prepares to Question Islamic Preacher

Prabhat Sharan
2016.11.24
Mumbai
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161124-IN-naik-620.jpg An Indian protester shouts slogans while standing in front of a sign denouncing Islamic scholar Zakir Naik, in New Delhi, July 18, 2016.
AFP

India’s National Investigation Agency is preparing documents to summon for questioning a controversial Muslim preacher suspected of inciting terrorism, an NIA official told BenarNews.

Popular televangelist Zakir Naik has been facing heat from Indian authorities since July, when Bangladeshi media reported that one of the perpetrators of a deadly terrorist attack at a café in Dhaka was influenced by his sermons.

Naik, 51, has since left the country, according to the NIA.

Last week, the Indian government imposed a five-year ban on Naik’s Mumbai-based NGO, the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). The law aims to regulate and prohibit the acceptance and use of foreign contributions or hospitality for any activities deemed detrimental to national interest.

“As of now, we have no concrete evidence with regard to his whereabouts,” NIA Inspector General of Police Alok Mittal said.

Mittal said Naik would be summoned for questioning via his lawyer in India and, if he failed to appear within a stipulated period, a warrant for his arrest would be issued.

Since Saturday, NIA investigators have searched in about 20 locations – IRF offices and residences of people affiliated with it. On Monday, the Indian government blocked websites of the IRF and IRF-run Islamic International School, as well as Naik’s social media accounts.

Interpol assistance

Mittal said the NIA may seek Interpol’s help to find Naik.

“Our team is scrutinizing documents confiscated during the searches and preparing grounds whereby we can seek Interpol’s help for his extradition (if he does not return),” Mittal said.

Another NIA official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity that Naik would “certainly be placed under arrest” if he were to appear for questioning.

The NIA on Wednesday sent notices to three Indian banks asking them to freeze 25 bank accounts belonging to Naik, his family and the IRF, the same official told BenarNews.

The NIA has registered a case against Naik under Indian Penal Code sections 10 (affiliation to an unlawful association), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth) and other sections of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, he said.

Naik is accused of making inflammatory remarks, such as praising late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, supporting suicide attacks and denouncing Hindu gods during sermons delivered through Peace TV, a channel partly funded by Naik’s IRF.

Although the channel, which was blacked out in Bangladesh in the wake of the July 1 attack, does not have a license to air in India, it broadcasts in several parts of the country through private cable TV operators.

Naik has denied accusations of inciting terror. In July, he told Indian journalists via Skype from Saudi Arabia that he was a “messenger of peace” and his statements were being taken out of context.

During the Skype conference, Naik made clear he would remain abroad until January because of prior commitments, but would make himself available as and when summoned by Indian authorities.

‘Not in hiding’

IRF spokesman Arif Malik refuted claims that Naik might try to evade the law.

“I have no reason to believe he will not appear before the NIA if summoned. He is not in hiding. About a fortnight ago, he was in Africa. His entire itinerary is available on the IRF website, which the government has blocked,” Malik told BenarNews.

Malik also challenged Indian media reports that the IRF paid 80,000 rupees ($1,162) in scholarship money to student Abu Anas, who was arrested in January for alleged links with the Islamic State.

“IRF or any other charitable organization never doles out money directly to a needy student,” Malik said.

Mobin Solkar, Naik’s lawyer, declined comment on NIA’s decision to summon his client for questioning, saying he was preparing to challenge the government’s five-year ban on the IRF.

“We are soon going to put up our case before the tribunal to challenge the government’s decision. The tribunal will decide whether to ratify or reject the ban,” he told BenarNews.

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