In an apparent U-turn over its treatment of a controversial Muslim preacher, Putrajaya on Wednesday (Nov 8) said it will extradite Dr Zakir Naik to India if there is a request from the Indian government.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that there is no such request to date.
“If India requests that he be extradited via the Mutual Legal Assistance (agreement), we will send him (back),” he said.
“As of now, there has been no such request.”
India last month filed radicalisation charges against the Mumbai-born televangelist, who is currently on the run from the Indian authorities. The move comes after India revoked his passport in July.
Dr Zakir was charged in absentia under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for heading an “unlawful association”. The founder of Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) was also charged with inciting youth to take up terror acts and join global terror groups such as the Islamic State (IS).
Last week, the Times of India reported that the Indian government will make an official request to Malaysia to extradite Dr Zakir.
The preacher allegedly fled to Saudi Arabia after the Indian authorities started investigating him and the IRF for alleged terror propaganda.
He has previously voiced support for Al Qaeda jihadists and Osama bin Laden and, in a 2006 lecture, he called for “every Muslim to be a terrorist”. The British and Canadian governments have banned the him from entering their country because of his inflammatory speeches.
The cleric, however, has denied allegations that he is a terrorist and said he is ready to go to court, provided it is at an international or Malaysian court, to prove his innocence.
He has been welcomed by some senior clerics in Malaysia and leaders from the opposition Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS). Putrajaya gave him permanent residency (PR) status five years ago and last year, he met Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Last month, a PAS leader urged the Malaysian government to refuse India’s request demanding the return of Dr Zakir, noting that the cleric was a well-respected individual and claims of him radicalising people or promoting terrorism were untrue.
The preacher however, is also a central figure in a March 1 civil lawsuit filed by 19 Malaysian human rights activists against the federal government, which is accused of failing to protect the country from Dr Zakir, who they claim to be a security threat.
Despite the charges against Dr Zakir, Mr Zahid said on Wednesday that Malaysia will not revoke the preacher’s PR, as he has not contravened any local laws.
Political analyst Dr Norshahril Saat told TODAY the government seems to be taking a cautious stance where Dr Zakir is concerned.
“Malaysia is concerned of harming bilateral ties with the Indian government. (On the other hand), Malaysians are divided about Zakir as he appeals to the middle class and English speaking Muslims,” said the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute fellow.
“It remains unsure how sending back Zakir will have a huge impact politically (for ruling coalition Barisan Nasional).”