In a major setback to India’s diplomatic effort, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Friday denied outright that his government would extradite controversial Mumbai-born preacher Zakir Naik, who is fleeing Indian law since an FIR was launched against him by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) in 2016.
“As long as he is not creating any problem, we will not deport him because he has been given permanent resident status,” the Malaysian PM was quoted as saying in local media.
Naik, too, had on Wednesday denied news reports that he would be extradited to India on from Malaysia, terming it as “totally baseless and false.”
“The news of my coming back to India is totally baseless and false. I have no plans to come to India until I feel safe from unfair prosecution. When I feel that the Indian government will be just and fair, I will surely return to my homeland,” Naik had said. He is believed to have fled India in July 2016 after being accused of inciting sectarianism and supporting terrorism, two charges he denies.
An FIR against Naik and his brainchild Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) was filed by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) in November 2016, after it emerged the same year that one of the Islamic State terrorists involved in carrying out a deadly attack in Dhaka had been inspired by Naik’s lectures. Twenty-two persons were killed in the terror assault.
The preacher, known for propagating hardline Salafi ideology, enjoys wide following among a section of fundamentalists, particularly in Saudi Arabia, which is believed to have even bestowed him with a citizenship.
Mahathir Mohamad is also believed to be a regular at Naik’s lectures, having attended several of them in 2016. The extradition of Naik, based out of the city of Putrajaya, is believed to have come up between Prime Minister Modi and Mohamad during the Indian leader’s visit to Malaysia in May this year.
It was reported on Tuesday that Malaysian authorities had agreed to extradite Naik to India.
According to MEA sources, India had made a request to the Government of Malaysia on Naik’s extradition in January this year. “We have been pursuing it through diplomatic channels. We have seen media reports regarding the deportation of Zakir Naik by the Malaysian government,” sources said on Wednesday afternoon, adding that they were yet to receive an official confirmation from Malaysian authorities.
A local Malaysian daily, FMT News, had quoted Naik’s lawyer Shaharuddin Ali as saying that he was yet to receive a formal request from the home minister of foreign affairs ministry on his deportation. “It’s not true,” reacted Ali.
Ali had reportedly said, “As at this moment, we still have firm instructions to challenge any action to extradite our client to India. We need to be served with the papers.”
The Embassy of Malaysia in New Delhi couldn’t be reached for a comment at the time of publishing this report.
*The story was last updated on July 6 at 2: 43 PM with the statement from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.