Naik Nicked

3rd May 2019

Indian hate preacher, Zakir Naik has been charged with money laundering by Indian prosecutors in Mumbai on Thursday. They claim that he has acquired $28 million worth of criminal assets, a charge which he denies.  The prosecution’s case is that he acquired funds from dubious sources in order to buy property in India and to finance events. These charges form part of a series of allegations made by the Indian government in an attempt to bring to trial a man who they regard as India’s most dangerous preacher.

Following the bombings in 2016 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, India’s counter-terrorism agency filed a complaint against him for promoting “religious hatred and unlawful activity.” In January 2018, India filed a request for Naik’s extradition from Malaysia, where he has taken refuge. Malaysia has stalled, partially due to the fervent support for Naik in the Muslim-majority country.  The Indian Enforcement Directorate stated on Thursday that Naik’s “inflammatory speeches and lectures have inspired and incited a number of Muslim youths in India to commit unlawful activities and terrorist acts”.

Naik is the director of the Islamic Research Foundation, which owns Peace TV, a Dubai-based TV channel. The channel broadcasts in English, Urdu and Bangla. From his platform Naik promotes a radical version of Islam, has praised Osama Bin Laden and stated that all Muslims “should be terrorists”.

Most famously, one of the bombers in the 2016 Dhaka bombing in Bangladesh explicitly stated that Naik had been one of the preachers that had inspired him to commit a terrorist act. He is not alone. Many other detained al-Qaeda followers have also claimed him as one of their inspirations.

Naik’s latest saga with the Indian government is not his only run-in with authorities. Following the attack, Bangladesh banned Peace TV, and, facing mounting pressure, Naik moved from India to Malaysia in 2017.  Most recently, Peace TV has been blocked by Sri Lanka’s major cable operators, Dialogue and SLT following the Easter bombings which left more than 300 dead.

Both Canada and the UK banned Naik from entering in 2010. Naik was banned from entering the UK by then-Home Secretary Theresa May . She stated that his presence in the UK “would not be conducive to the public good”.

Other than his views on Osama Bin Laden, Naik has publicly advocated suicide bombings, the execution of apostates, wife-beating, hudud (Islamic corporal punishments) and virulent anti-semitism. He justifies his position by means of his interpretations of scripture.

Naik was one of the first preachers banned by the United Kingdom. In justifying his exclusion, Mrs May famously stated:

“Coming to the UK is a privilege, not a right and I am not willing to allow those who might not be conducive to the public good to enter the UK….Exclusion powers are very serious and no decision is taken lightly or as a method of stopping open debate on issues.”

The ban was not uncontroversial within the Home Office. Litigation by Naik disclosed that the then director general of the Home Office’s Office for Security and Counterterrorism, the late Charles Farr, had opposed the ban. It further emerged that Charles Farr had considered persuading Naik to promulgate a series of statements that would disassociate himself from the allegations that the “right-wing press have […] accused him of.”  The concern was that such a course of action would simply be window dressing: a device to hide , “the truth of his beliefs”, as the Harry’s Place website put it. A political storm ensued, with a number of MPs calling for Farr’s resignation. Mr Farr’s career withstood the storm.

Notwithstanding the ban, Naik’s influence in the United Kingdom has continued, through his Peace TV channel, broadcast by Sky. It transpired that the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, had opened no less than six investigations into Peace TV during 2018. For example, in 2016, Peace TV Urdu was fined £65,000 by Ofcom for propagating antisemitic comments by scholar Israr Ahmed. Ahmed had regularly referred to Jews as a cursed people, for poisoning Europe and having evil plans.

There is a plethora of evidence against Naik. However, this counts for little with his staunch supporters, some of whom have engaged in violence. The worst of them are responsible for taking people’s lives.  In one particularly disturbing event, a man who declared himself an atheist and questioned Naik on the penalty for apostasy received death threats. Others have firebombed a Malaysian politician’s offices. Penang Deputy Chief Minister, Ramasamy Palanisamy has called for Naik’s expulsion from Malaysia.

Now is the time to cut the cables of Peace TV. It should be clear by now that he ought not to have a satellite or cable platform in the United Kingdom. This should not be a matter for OFCOM, but a commercial decision, made for reputational reasons, by Sky.