VLADIVOSTOK, Sep 5, 2019, HT. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked Malaysian counterpart Dr Mahathir Mohamad to take steps to extradite controversial preacher Zakir Naik who is wanted in India for inciting terrorism and money laundering, according to news agency ANI. It is not clear yet if the Malaysian premier gave any assurances but the two leaders decided that the officials will stay in touch on this issue, reported the Hindustan Times.
“Both the parties have decided that our officials will stay in contact regarding the matter and it is an important issue for us,” Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters after PM Modi’s bilateral meetings ahead of the three-day Eastern Economic Forum (EEF). This is the second meeting between the two leaders, the first was in May last year when Prime Minister called on Dr Mahathir in Putrajaya.
PM Modi, who landed in the major port city of Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East yesterday, has held a string of bilateral meetings with world leaders. Early on Thursday, he also met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the multi-faceted ties between the two countries.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the discussions with Dr Mahathir Mohamad were focused on the multiple layers of the bilateral relationship with Malaysia.
India’s decision to escalate the pending extradition request for Zakir Naik to the level of the prime ministers is also designed to signal the importance that New Delhi attaches to action against Naik.
The polarising preacher has been on the radar of Indian security agencies for years but it was only after the men involved in the 2016 terror attack in Bangladesh’s Dhaka described Naik as their inspiration that the crackdown really started.
Zakir hasn’t returned to India since then and shifted base to Malaysia which has granted him permanent residency. But over the next year, Indian agencies have forced him to shut operations in the country and banned his NGO, Islamic Research Foundation, under the anti-terror law.
Just last month, Mahathir told state-run news agency Bernama that Zakir Naik could not be sent back to India because of fears for his safety. “If any (other) country wants to have him, they are welcome,” Mahathir said.
Race and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where Muslims make up about 60% of the population of 32 million. The rest are mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians.
But Naik got into some trouble last month after videos emerged last month where he said Malaysian Hindus were more loyal to the Indian prime minister, Hindus in Malaysia had “100 times more rights” than the Muslim minority in India, and that Malaysian Chinese were guests of the country.
That controversy had embarrassed PM Mahathir Mohamad who underscored that Naik was free to preach about Islam but should not speak about Malaysia’s racial politics. Three of his ministers had also demanded at cabinet meetings and in public statements that Zakir Naik be expelled.
Malaysian police had then grilled Naik for 10 hours and barred him from speaking at several events. Eventually Zakir Naik issued a public apology, insisting that his detractors had taken his comments out of context and added “strange fabrications to them.”