Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has met Zakir Naik, wanted in India for alleged terror activities and money-laundering, and a ruling party strategist has stoutly defended the government’s decision not to deport the preacher, local media reported on Sunday.
The meeting took place on Saturday, a day after Mahathir ruled out deporting Naik, who has permanent residency status in Malaysia, unless he breaks that country’s laws.”I can confirm that Naik went to see Tun (Mahathir) this morning (Saturday),” the news portal Free Malaysia Today quoted a source as saying.
It is unclear what Naik discussed with Mahathir in their first meeting since the ruling Pakatan Harapan assumed power, the report said. The meeting, which was unscheduled, was said to be brief.
The meeting between Naik and Mahathir comes a day after the Prime Minister gave the clearest indication yet that the Malaysian government would not deport Naik.
There had been intense media speculation in India that the Malaysian government would deport Naik. Deportation is an executive decision, unlike extradition – which India has sought in January – that is decided by the judiciary.
But Mahathir said two days ago that the government would not deport Naik as he had been granted permanent resident status in Malaysia, unless he caused trouble in the country.
A strategist in the ruling Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) has defended Mahathir’s decision not to deport Naik.
PPBM strategist Rais Hussin said he personally did not see anything wrong in Naik’s activities and speeches. Deporting him would be akin to deporting Uighur Muslims to China, he said, referring to China pressing Malaysia for the extradition of 11 Uighur men who entered Malaysia illegally last year after their dramatic escape from a jail in Thailand.
China accuses separatist extremists among the Uighur minority of plotting attacks on the country’s Han majority in the restive far western region of Xinjiang and other parts.
But rights groups have accused China of abuse in Xinjiang and imposition of tight control on the religion inhabited by the Uighurs, a charge denied by Beijing.
Rais also took issue with the criticism of Naik on social media. He said the preacher had his own way of articulating his views through debates.
Naik’s detractors – those with “a mob mentality” – should debate with him rather than seek his deportation, Rais said.
Rais also questioned the motive of the Indian authorities whose actions, he said, might not be grounded in justice.
In January, India had made a formal request to Malaysia to deport Naik, wanted for allegedly inciting youngsters to get involved in terror activities through his hate speeches. India also has an extradition treaty with Malaysia.
Rais said it was unfair of some Malaysians to compare the country’s attempts to bring back convicted killer Sirul Azhar Umar and businessman Low Taek Jho with Malaysia’s stand on deporting Naik to India.
“Sirul was found guilty of murdering Altantuya Shaariibuu, while Jho Low is implicated in grand theft in relation to the Malaysia Development Berhad case. How does that compare to Naik’s comparative debates on religion?” Rais was quoted as saying.
In 2009, Sirul was convicted in Malaysia and sentenced to death for the murder of a Mongolian woman, Shaariibuu.
Naik has accused the media in India of subjecting him to a vilification campaign over the past two years. He said “fake news” about his deportation would be exposed.
“Most of the articles published against me will be proved as having no basis,” he said in a new video message posted on his Facebook page.
Naik, who left India in July 2016, is being probed under terror and money-laundering charges by the National Investigation Agency. The NIA had first registered a case against him under anti-terror laws in 2016 for allegedly promoting enmity between different religious groups.
Naik is also under investigation for allegedly delivering hate speeches that inspired a terror attack on a popular cafe in Dhaka in 2016.