Academics and activist weight in on the controversy surrounding the question of whether Zakir Naik should be extradited to India. Mustafa K Anuar reports.
Putrajaya’s refusal to entertain India’s request to extradite controversial preacher Zakir Naik raises concerns about Malaysia’s foreign policy, said social activists and academics.
They said upsetting India could bring grave consequences to Malaysia and questioned if protecting Zakir was worth it.
Several of them said Malaysia should not be seen practising double standards as it is also seeking the extradition of businessman Low Taek Jho to face charges related to the 1MDB scandal.
Activist and former deputy chairman of Bersih 2.0 Sarajun Hoda raised concerns about upsetting India, the world’s largest democracy and the second biggest emerging economy in the world after China.
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“Upsetting India can bring grave consequences to our tiny country, especially with (Indian Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s government that rode on Hindu popularity to win the election.
“We need to cooperate with both China and India, the fastest growing economic giants and tap their potential to pull Malaysia out of the big hole we are in, created by the Najib (Razak) administration.
“We cannot upset China. We also cannot upset India. Their technological advancements and the super huge SMEs are for us to exploit in order to bring effective development in our country and improve our two-way trade, mutually benefiting public projects and infrastructures.”
India is one of Malaysia’s largest trading partners, with trade between the two countries increasing from just US$600m in 1992 to US$13.3bn in 2012.
In 2017, both countries signed deals amounting to US$36bn (RM152bn) with the exchange of 31 business memorandums of understanding (MoUs), the largest in the history of economic relations between the two.
India is also the world’s biggest importer of vegetable oils, with palm oil making up some 80% of its annual import of almost nine million tonnes of edible oils.
“It will be foolish if we choose to ignore and offend India and just give away everything. Is Zakir really worth the future of our nation?” said Sarajun.
Hundreds of online commentators from India have called on their government to boycott trade and tourism with Malaysia in response to Putrajaya’s refusal to extradite Zakir.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on 10 June said India must first assure Putrajaya that Zakir will receive just treatment before the government decides to send him back.
Indian media reported that the country’s Enforcement Directorate was set to secure an arrest warrant against Zakir and others in an ongoing trial heard by a special court in Mumbai under its Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002.
Lawyer Vince Tan said there appears to be double standards in the practice of extradition of Thai activist Praphan Pipithnamporn as compared with Zakir.
“We cannot practise double standards in the treatment of foreign individuals in our country as it would not reflect well on the sincerity of Malaysia in international relations,” Tan said.
“Such practice would bring about implications that Zakir, as a Muslim, is entitled to protection by Malaysia compared to foreign individuals who are not Muslim.”
He said preferential treatment of Muslims can be inferred from the withdrawal of charges against Siti Aisyah from Indonesia in the Kim Jong-nam murder case, whereas Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong only had her murder charge dropped after she pleaded guilty to an alternative charge of causing harm.
The above case, he added, did not reflect well on Malaysia at the international level.
“Our relations with other countries have to be consistent and not biased, otherwise the rule of law preached by the Pakatan Harapan government would mean nothing but lip service.”
Activist and blogger Anil Netto said the Malaysian government has to be consistent if it requests other nations for suspects or fugitives to be extradited back to Malaysia, such as Low and convicted Altantuya Shaariibuu murderer Sirul Azhar Umar.
“Malaysia has to make sure our judiciary is independent and we uphold international human rights norms, including the abolition of capital punishment. In this way, any request to extradite Malaysian suspects in other countries will be more likely to receive favourable consideration.
“Similarly, Malaysia should only consider extradition requests from countries that have an independent judiciary and are not under authoritarian rule.
“This will avoid situations like the case of Praphan Pipithnamporn, who was extradited back to Thailand from Malaysia. This raised an uproar as she was an activist being sent back to a country now under authoritarian rule,” Netto said.
However, he added, India’s intention to request the arrest and extradition of Zakir is a bit different.
“The Malaysia government should consider that India has a democratic tradition and its judiciary is perceived to be independent.
“Perhaps it should get an assurance from India about the nature of the charges that would likely be pressed against Zakir. If the charges do not carry the death penalty, then that would be an argument in favour of extradition.
“But then, it would be hard to argue along those lines if Malaysia itself practises the death penalty. This is another compelling reason why the death penalty in Malaysia should be abolished.
“Assurances could also be sought that Zakir would be presumed innocent until proven guilty and given access to a lawyer. There should also be no trial by media.”
Political scientist Dr Azmil Tayeb of Universiti Sains Malaysia felt that it is fallacious to compare Sirul’s case with Zakir’s.
“In Sirul’s case, the question is not about fair trial but the death sentence, which Australia is against. Sirul has already been tried and he escaped.
“In Zakir’s case, Malaysia has to respect India’s legal system and its capacity to be fair and just. India is a democratic country, of which an independent judiciary is part.
“Let Zakir defend himself against all the charges and prove his innocence according to Indian law.”
If the tables are turned, Azmil was sure Malaysia would want other countries to respect its judicial system.
There cannot be double standards in this case, he stressed.
Prof Zaharom Nain of Nottingham University of Malaysia said the refusal to extradite Zakir is illogical and wrong.
“Dr Mahathir can’t talk about ‘rule of law’ on one hand, and then (not) allow ‘rule of law’ take to its course in Zakir’s case.
“He can’t be asking for Jho Low to be extradited from wherever to face justice in Malaysia, yet refuse to allow a sovereign state like India access to Zakir.”
Academic Dr Christopher Chong of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman said unless there is reason to doubt the judicial process in India, the government’s action would send a message that Malaysia is selective about respecting international norms and practices.
It will have an impact on the country’s standing in the international community, he added.