Members of the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), founded headed by controversial preacher Zakir Naik, on Wednesday claimed that four establishments – three prominent south Mumbai hotels and a commercial centre – refused them permission for a press conference despite having space.
IRF claimed that two of the venues cancelled the event after it had already booked space there. The press conference will now be held at a banquet hall at Madanpura on Thursday. Naik will host it via video-conference.
Naik has been under 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 Naik’s sermons.
According to IRF office bearers, the organisation had been trying to hold a press conference to clarify Naik’s position on terrorism and various other issues since Tuesday, but was unable to find a suitable location for it. “We first booked a hotel in Colaba on Tuesday evening, but within minutes we received a call from the hotel informing us that they won’t be able to allow us to hold the press conference,” said Ashraf Malik from IRF.
He added, “Two hotels told us they had room, but upon learning the name of our organisation, they too denied us space,” he said. IRF then managed to book a hall at World Trade Centre, Cuffe Parade, but even this fell through, according to IRF, after WTC backed out on Wednesday. “We had sent invites to journalists for a press conference scheduled for Thursday. But today we were told we won’t be able to conduct the event because of a ‘power breakdown’ at the centre. How can a world-class centre not have a back-up for power outages?” said Malik.
Dolly Awati, spokesperson for the World Trade Centre Association, said, “World Trade Centre Mumbai has not been booked for the Zakir Naik press conference via Skype on Thursday morning. We generally rent our hall for business and education-related activities. The organisers made some enquiries but we didn’t receive any confirmation from them. Besides, the venue has already been booked for an event on Friday and we are required to make arrangements for it on Thursday.”
A spokesperson for ITC Grand Central, Parel, one of the three hotels IRF approached, refused to comment.