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29 November, 2019 11:20:54 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 29 November, 2019 02:08:56 PM

Zakir Naik sues Malaysian MP

Independent Online/ South China Morning Post
Zakir Naik sues Malaysian MP

Controversial Muslim televangelist Zakir Naik, who set up shop in Malaysia while criminal investigations continue in his home country India, has taken legal action against a local member of parliament over alleged defamation following remarks the politician made about recent arrests under a draconian counterterrorism law.

MP Charles Santiago, a member of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is part of Malaysia's ruling coalition, on Tuesday offered his opinions on the arrests last month of more than 10 ethnic Indians for alleged links to a Sri Lankan militant group commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, an organisation considered inactive for the last 10 years.

Discussing the issue at a forum, the lawmaker suggested the arrests were linked to political criticism of Zakir, who has made headlines for his puritan brand of Islam - recommending the death penalty for homosexuals and those who abandon the faith. In Britain, the preacher has been banned from entering the country.

Santiago said the arrests appeared to be a "warning" to Malaysia's Indian community, as well as a tool to punish those who had criticised Zakir for causing racial disharmony.

The MP confirmed he had been served a notice of demand for defamation by Zakir's lawyers, who said Santiago's remarks had damaged the preacher's reputation.

Santiago's lawyers meanwhile maintain that the politician, "as an MP, is questioning the authorities in relation to the process of investigation".

Despite his hardline views, Zakir has been given permanent residency in multicultural Malaysia and embraced by top government officials, leading critics to suggest his presence implied top-level support for hardline Islam in a country that has long projected a moderate Islamic image and has a substantial Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minority population.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, whose 18-month-old Pakatan Harapan coalition is struggling to capture the majority Malay-Muslim vote bank, said in September that no other country wanted Zakir, who is facing criminal charges of money laundering and instigating terrorism in his homeland and is banned from several nations for propagating anti-Semitic hate speech.

Zakir became a topic of national discussion in August after he suggested Malaysia's ethnic Indian community was "loyal" to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was re-elected in May following a divisive campaign in which he was accused of being anti-Muslim. Among Zakir's sharpest critics have been leading members of the DAP, a key component of Pakatan Harapan, which formed a government in May last year.

Santiago said the DAP had become "collateral damage" in the coalition's bid to win Malay-Muslim votes against an opposition that used racial and religious rhetoric to bolster support.

Although several cabinet ministers had initially lambasted the preacher for his remarks, top politicians from other coalition parties later walked back their statements and urged Malaysians to "forgive" Zakir. Political observers described this as an attempt to appease the increasingly conservative ethnic Malay-Muslim community, which makes up more than 60 per cent of the population.

Santiago is just one of a number of politicians the preacher has sued or threatened to sue, including Penang state Deputy Chief Minister II P. Ramasamy, Minister of Human Resources M. Kulasegaran and assemblyman Satees Muniandy - DAP leaders who have also been in the news for criticising the Tigers-linked arrests.

Last month Malaysian media reported that a group of 12 men - including two DAP assemblymen - were being investigated for suspected ties to the Tigers under Malaysia's Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, which allows for 28 days of detention without any judicial oversight.

Santiago, along with other DAP members, questioned why his party colleagues had been arrested given that "even in Sri Lanka, the movement does not exist". He called the Tigers, officially the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, "freedom fighters".

Founded in Sri Lanka in 1976, the group fought for an independent Tamil state in the country's 26-year civil war, which was sparked by ethnopolitical tensions between the majority Sinhalese population and minority Sri Lankan Tamils. Malaysia is home to a sizeable ethnic Sri Lankan Tamil minority, mostly brought over during the British colonial era.





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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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