As investigating agencies struggle to collect clinching evidence against controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, 51, experts are sceptical if sleuths can rustle up a watertight case against him for his alleged hate speeches.
The Mumbai police have not had much success proving the televangelist’s criminality and legal experts say that the state will have to analyse his speeches thoroughly to make a case that will stand in court.
“Such speeches are given by members of every religion. There is a thin line between freedom of speech and criminality. He [Naik] will say that he is defending his religion, and it will be difficult to prove it [alleged incitement] in court. Court will see whether his intentions are to create enmity between religions, while he will defend himself saying if anyone attacks his religion he will reply,” YP Singh, IPS officer-turned-lawyer, said.
To file a charge sheet in cases under section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) of the Indian Penal Code, the state’s prior approval is necessary, Sigh said, adding that states usually do not give a go-ahead in such cases.
As Mumbai police commissioner, D. Sivanandan had also probed Naik’s speeches at the Somaiya ground in central Mumbai.
“The state has to be very careful in prosecuting him. Prima-facie, I don’t’ see direct evidence available from his speeches that he is inciting terrorism or communal disharmony. So the prosecutor has to prove it [culpability] beyond a shadow of doubt. Even if the state sanctions action against Naik, evidence won’t hold in the court,” Sivanandan said.
To avoid such judicial embarrassment, Sivanandan said the police have to scrupulously study Naik’s papers and speeches and seek legal opinion on the next course of action.
“One has to tread cautiously, very cautiously, or else it will have a boomerang effect,” he added.
On the other hand, some experts have pointed out that a case can be made if agencies can prove that his speeches were inflammatory.
“Firstly, the police have to make a prima facie case under relevant sections of the IPC. If they can point out that his speeches or preaching have caused unrest or they have enough material that youths have been instigated to adopt the path of terrorism, it is only then they would be justified in registering a crime against him. Even after registering crime, the police have to give him an opportunity to explain why penal offences should not be slapped against him for omission and commission,” said Majeed Memon, senior advocate.
Naik has been in the spotlight ever since two of the six terrorists who attacked the Holey Artisan Café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, two weeks ago claimed they had been influenced by his sermons.
He had been on the police’s radar well before that and was questioned by the state’s anti-terrorism squad in 2006, after the police found that a suspect in the July 11 train bombings that year was an employee at his Dongri office.