Tasked by the Union Home Ministry to examine whether any legal action can be initiated against controversial televangelist Zakir Naik, security agencies have drawn up a list of 55 terror accused, arrested from across the country over the past decade, who have claimed to be influenced by or to have watched Naik’s speeches.
Sources in the agencies told The Indian Express that the list includes arrests from as far back as 2005 to those made by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) earlier this year. These accused have claimed affiliation to groups such as the SIMI, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Indian Mujahideen and the Islamic State (IS).
Among those in the list, The Indian Express has learnt, are Feroze Deshmukh, a former Islamic Research Foundation employee who was arrested by the Maharashtra ATS for his alleged role in the 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case; Qateel Ahmed Siddiqui, an Indian Mujahideen member who was murdered inside Yerwada prison in Pune in June 2012; Biju Saleem, a former sub-inspector with the hi-tech cell of the Kerala Police and alleged SIMI sympathiser who was accused of trying to create unrest among religious communities by leaking information to the media about police snooping on Muslim community leaders and thinkers; alleged IS online recruiter Afsha Jabeen, who was arrested in September 2015 on deportation from the UAE; Mudabbir Sheikh, Mohammed Obaidullah Khan, Abu Anas and Mohammed Nafees Khan, who were arrested in raids across the country by the NIA in January for floating a local IS-affiliate named Junood ul Khalifa e Hind; and alleged Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh operatives Asadullah Ali and Rafique Islam, arrested during the Burdwan blast probe.
Details of four criminal cases registered against Naik in India in the past are also being examined by agencies. While investigations are on in three of the FIRs against Naik, a fourth case is pending in a court in Kolhapur.
In 2013, a case was registered against Naik on the complaint of one Subhash Pandurang, at Kurla police station in Mumbai. Naik was charged with promoting enmity among different groups (153 A IPC) and statements leading to public mischief (505-2 IPC), and under sections of the IT Act.
In 2012, three FIRs were registered against Naik. On the complaint of one Gopal, Naik was booked by the Vengurla police station in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district for promoting enmity among different groups (153 A IPC) and deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings (295 A IPC). Naik was booked under similar sections by the Sawantwadi police station in Sindhudurg on the complaint of a ‘social worker’ identified as Govind. He was also slapped with similar sections by the Lakshmipur police station in Kolhapur on the complaint of one Shivanand Swami. This case is currently pending before the Kolhapur sessions court.
“It’s an exhaustive exercise involving a large team, which is carefully poring over all of Naik’s speeches, and looking at the activities at Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation in Mumbai, and the Mumbai and Chennai branches of the Islamic International School run by him. In addition, all past instances in which terror accused have claimed during interrogation that they were influenced by Naik, or would attend Naik’s speeches or listen to them on the Internet, have been compiled. A list of 55 such accused has been drawn up,” a source said.
The source added that the authorities were proceeding “very cautiously”. “There has to be a strong legal basis for proceeding with any legal action against Naik, and any case registered against him should be backed by evidence that will hold up in a court.”
Naik’s lawyer Mubin Solkar told The Indian Express, “I cannot say anything about these terror accused who claim they were influenced by Dr Zakir Naik. My only comment is that it’s a total lie. If you see the contents of Dr Naik’s lectures or his speeches, if the contents are seen in the context in which he speaks, and also in the entirety of his lecture, then definitely nobody would ever come to this conclusion that he would inspire terrorism or he would inspire people to commit terrorist acts… I do not agree that these 55 people may have been inspired by Dr Naik to commit terrorist acts.”
Solkar also pointed out that none of the FIRs registered against Naik has any terror charges. “These FIRs were registered by some people who obviously had allegiance to the right wing. They have also relied upon and gone through some of the doctored speeches (of Naik) available on the Internet, and not relied on his entire speech… We have already filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court for quashing of three FIRs filed in Maharashtra,” he said.
He added that the Supreme Court had taken note of their plea that all the cases against Naik be investigated by one agency, and had stayed proceedings in the complaints.