The Union home ministry was left red-faced on Thursday after sources revealed that the foreign funding license for controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik’s NGO was quietly renewed despite opposing legal opinion.
As the news surfaced, four ministry officials were suspended, sources added.
“We’re very clear that there should be smooth process of registration or renewal but not when there’s a case pending. The action against the under secretaries and section officer was due to their negligence in clearing the renewal while a case is still pending,” minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju tweeted late on Thursday.
The home ministry had sought the solicitor general of India’s opinion over declaring Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) unlawful under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The ministry was told that Naik’s statements in different forums allegedly promoted enmity and hatred between religious groups and inspired and incited terrorists – grounds on which the government could proceed to blacklist the IRF.
The Centre was deliberating over the opinion and gathering more evidence to support its case against the NGO. Once declared unlawful, the IRF will be unable to collect donations and enlist members for its functioning. Its assets can be also be attached to legal proceedings.
However, despite this opinion, the license was renewed in the third week of August under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), the law that governs foreign funding of NGOs.
When the matter came to light, the ministry suspended the four officials from its foreigners division that deals with FCRA matters. They included two under secretaries and one section officer apart from Dwivedi. The joint secretary in-charge could not be reached for a comment.
“We had applied for renewal around two months back and in the third week of August we were intimated that FCRA license of IRF has been renewed. It shows that the government has nothing against us,” IRF spokesperson, Aarif Malik said.
Naik is under scanner again after it was alleged that some of the gunmen who attacked a Dhaka bakery in Bangladesh were influenced by his sermons.
Law enforcement agencies across India have also been watching Naik closely, and the Maharashtra government also indicted him. Naik has denied the charges, but has refused to come back to India. He is currently believed to be in Saudi Arabia.
In his lecture aired on Peace TV, an international Islamic channel, the preacher reportedly “urged all Muslims to be terrorists”.
Naik is banned in the UK and Canada for his hate speech aimed against other religions. He is among 16 banned Islamic scholars in Malaysia.
(GK Dwivedi, joint secretary in-charge of foreigners division, is not among the officials suspended as earlier version of this report said.)