New Delhi: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Friday said that controversial religious preacher Zakir Naik will not be sent back to India, reported Strait Times. His statement comes after media reports claimed that he was deported to India from Malaysia.
Naik, however, on Wednesday denied reports of his return to India, terming them baseless and false. Zakir, who has been staying abroad to evade arrest in various cases in India, said he has no plans to come back to his home country until he feels safe from unfair prosecution.
"The news of my coming to India is totally baseless and false. I have no plans to come to India till I don't feel safe from unfair prosecution. Insha Allah when I feel that the government will be just and fair, I will surely return to my homeland," the religious preacher was quoted as saying.
The reports were also turned down by National Investigation Agency (NIA) spokesperson Alok Mittal. "We have no such information as of now. We are verifying it," Mittal had said.
Naik is facing various cases, including for hate speech and money laundering, in India and has been staying abroad to evade arrest. Though he faces a ban in the UK, he has been given permanent residency in Malaysia and has been embraced by top government officials.
The Islamic preacher left India in 2016 and since then has been staying in Malaysia's Putrajaya.
According to Rashaad Ali, an analyst with S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, the Malaysian government accommodates Naik because "he remains a reasonably popular character amongst Malays, who gloss over his more controversial aspects."
"If the government were to kick him out of the country, it causes them to lose religious credibility in the eyes of the public."
Critics see Naik's presence in Malaysia as another sign of top-level support for hardline Islam in a country with substantial minorities of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, and which has long projected a moderate Islamic image.
Naik, a 52-year-old medical doctor, embroiled himself in controversy with his puritan brand of Islam - recommending the death penalty for homosexuals and those who abandon Islam as their faith, according to media reports. A Youtube video shows Naik saying that if Osama bin Laden "is terrorizing America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him".
The NIA had first registered a case against the 51-year-old Naik under anti-terror laws in 2016 for allegedly promoting enmity between different religious groups.
The NIA and Mumbai Police, subsequently, had also carried out searches at 10 places in Mumbai including residential premises of some of the office bearers of the foundation run by Naik. The foundation was earlier put on the restricted list by the Home Ministry for receiving funds from abroad.
(With inputs from agencies)