In a major jolt to controversial televangelist Zakir Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), the Delhi High Court on Thursday refused to grant any protection to its trustees from coercive action by agencies probing its alleged terror links. A special tribunal had on May 11 upheld the Centre’s November 17, 2016 decision to ban the IRF for five years, saying there were sufficient reasons, including posing a threat to India’s security, to declare it an unlawful association.
When the plea by the IRF on behalf of its trustees came up for hearing before a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Navin Chawla, it declined any relief to it.
“There can be no question of an interim order. Sorry, that request is rejected,” the bench said to the organisation which claimed there was nothing against its trustees and they should be protected from coercive action.
The court, however, kept the IRF’s application for interim orders pending.
The Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain, opposed maintainability of the IRF’s plea challenging upholding of its ban under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by a special tribunal.
The ASG said the order under challenge was given by a sitting judge of the Delhi High Court and was akin to an order of the high court which can be assailed only in the Supreme Court.
The bench, however, observed that just because a sitting judge of the high court was presiding over the tribunal, its decision would not become an order of the high court. It was of the view that the IRF’s plea was maintainable.
The IRF opposed the Centre’s stand and said its plea was maintainable in the high court.
It said Naik’s speeches, based on which the organisation was banned, were being made since 1990 and were not sponsored by the IRF.
Therefore, no case or illegality was made out against the organisation on the basis of Naik’s speeches.
The IRF sought protection of its trustees from coercive action as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was raiding its offices and questioning its members after lodging an FIR against Naik under the anti-terror law, UAPA.
The court, thereafter, said it will hear arguments on the merits of the case and its maintainability on November 8.
It asked the Centre and the IRF to ensure all the relevant documents are on record before the next date.
The IRF in its plea claimed the “tribunal erred in observing that there is material indicating communal riot because of the speech made by Naik”.
The organisation contended that actions of Naik and his aide, Arshi Qureshi, cannot reflect on the organisation and will affect the charitable and educational work being done by it.
The tribunal, headed by Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal of the Delhi High Court, had found that Naik had failed to take part in the legal proceedings before it and was “absconding and untraceable”.
On March 16, a single-judge bench of the Delhi High Court had also held that the Centre’s decision to ban the IRF was taken to safeguard national security. It had dismissed the IRF’s plea challenging its immediate ban.
The IRF had first moved the tribunal against the November 17, 2016 notification of the Ministry of Home Affairs imposing an immediate ban on the organisation under the UAPA.
As the tribunal had declined to hear the matter before February 6, the foundation had moved the Delhi High Court challenging the ban.