PETALING JAYA: A lawyer has come to the defence of Dr Mahathir Mohamad after the prime minister attracted criticism over his decision not to deport controversial Indian Muslim cleric Dr Zakir Naik.
Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali said Mahathir took the right decision as Naik, who is facing money laundering charges in India, holds a permanent resident (PR) status in Malaysia.
“So it is in Malaysia’s sovereign interest to accord him with all such protection,” Rafique told FMT.
Yesterday, Mahathir suggested that Malaysia could reject any request from India to extradite Naik, and likened the case to Australia’s refusal to deport convicted killer Sirul Azhar Umar.
“Before we accept an extradition (request), we need to know what will happen to the person who will be extradited, especially since we also have a wanted man who ran to Australia,” he told reporters.
“When we asked Australia to send him back, Australia said he would be hanged if he is sent to Malaysia. Therefore, until now, Australia has not delivered the request. We also have the right to know that the person we send back gets a fair trial.”
The remarks drew strong reactions from activists who have opposed Naik’s presence in Malaysia.
“Tun is talking nonsense,” lawyer Siti Kasim told FMT.
She said the prime minister’s stand was no different from his defence of Australian mining company Lynas Corp, which was allowed to continue its operations in Pahang despite protests from activists and several ruling politicians.
“He is trying to defend Naik like he is defending Lynas. Both are toxic wastes,” she said.
But Rafique urged critics to “properly examine the facts” surrounding Naik’s case.
He said India has not made clear what it is seeking from Malaysia.
He said Interpol had cancelled a red notice request against Naik filed by New Delhi in 2017, adding that it showed “certain procedural failures by the Indian authorities”.
“Due cognizance must also be given to what transpired at the appeals tribunal in India where Justice Manmohan Singh had strongly rebuked the Enforcement Directorate (ED) lawyers during proceedings,” he said.
Rafique also said there has not been “ a single shred of evidence” to link Naik to the Dhaka terror attacks.
Naik has been blamed by authorities in Bangladesh over the 2016 attacks which left 22 people dead. The preacher has strongly rejected the accusations.
Early last month, he was charged in absentia in India with money laundering. The ED accused him of acquiring about Rs1.9 billion (RM114.5 million) worth of criminal assets.
Naik has since said he is prepared to return to India to face charges but feared being jailed like many other Muslim suspects whom the courts found not guilty years later.
A Mumbai court is expected to decide on June 19 whether a non-bailable warrant of arrest should be issued against Naik. India could seek Interpol’s help to have him detained and sent back for trial.
Rafique, however, questioned authorities in India over the legal procedures.
“As can be seen from the sequence of events, even the Indian authorities’ previous actions are riddled with holes and errors,” he said.
“How then can we as a nation, priding itself on the rule of law, simply give in to pressure?”
Another lawyer, Surendra Ananth, said the question of sovereignty does not play an important role in Naik’s case.
He said Malaysia has signed an extradition treaty with India.
“By doing so, it has consented to be bound by the terms of that treaty,” he said. “In determining whether Malaysia has complied with such obligations, the question of sovereignty no longer arises.”
He said in considering any request to extradite Naik, Putrajaya must determine whether the offence he is accused of is also an offence in Malaysia.
“This is why such a request must be very detailed and must include the facts supporting the offence, the law which has allegedly been breached, documents or other forms of evidence to support the allegation.”
Surendra said under Article 8 of the extradition treaty, there is no need for India to prove a prima facie case against Naik.
“It is essentially a very surface level inquiry. Malaysia should not be concerned on whether the offence can be proven under Indian law,” he said.
Surendra said that while Malaysia can reject the request on fears that Naik would be persecuted, he does not think the criminal justice system in India would be unfair.
“The fact that Malaysia entered into a treaty with India in itself indicates that we trust their criminal justice system,” he said.