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Zakir Naik has no Plans to Return to India for a year, but says he is Not Running Away

Zakir Naik has been in the Indian news for quite some time now, due to his controversial religious speeches.

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Dr. Zakir Naik. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
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  • Zakir Naik is a controversial Muslim Preacher who is in news now for allegedly inciting killing and violence in the name of Islam.
  • Naik has often been in the news, primarily because of his speeches and their content.
  • But he says that he is a messenger of peace and does not mean to harm innocent people.

“I did not inspire any terrorists. Suicide bombings targeting innocent people are condemnable. My statements have been taken out of context. I am a messenger of peace,” said Zakir Naik to the reporters after his Peace TV channel got banned in Bangladesh.

Naik in the news. Image Source : youtube
Naik in the news. Image Source : youtube

According to him, his statements on terrorism and suicide bombings reported by the Indian media were “tampered and doctored.” He had applied for permission from Indian authorities to air Peace TV through his Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) in 2008, but the request was denied “possibly because the channel was Islamic.”

“I am not running away. As per my travel plans, I am supposed to come to India by next year, not before that,” Naik said. Even though Naik said he had not been contacted by any Indian investigating agency, Mumbai-based intelligence sources told BenarNews that all angles related to the televangelist, including his speeches, were being probed.

PM Modi had said “preachers of hate and violence are threatening the fabric of our society”, with reference to Zakir Naik. Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu has also hinted at his agitation against Naik due to his inappropriate speeches.

After the IS attack  on Bangladesh, India had been feeling threatened. The heat on Naik is coming during a heightened sense of a threat from the Islamic State (IS)  in India following the attack in the Bangladeshi capital, which killed 29 people, including an Indian hostage.

Until recently, New Delhi had denied that the Middle East-based terror outfit had any significant presence in India, but officials on Friday confirmed that the Dhaka attack had forced security agencies to make “certain procedural changes.”

Aftermath of Dhaka Attack. Image Source : thedailystar.net
Aftermath of Dhaka Attack. Image Source : thedailystar.net

“Naturally, security has been enhanced [after the Dhaka attack]. Several checks have been instituted along the Indo-Bangla border to prevent intruders into our cantonments and protect installations,” Wing Commander S.S. Birdi, spokesman for the defense ministry in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh, told BenarNews.

Bangladesh, after the Dhaka Attack, is still in mourning and wishes to make certain things clear to its scarred people. In Bangladesh, authorities on Friday moved to regulate weekly sermons in mosques across the Muslim-majority country amid a stepped-up campaign to combat Islamist extremism.

The state-run Islamic Foundation has prepared and delivered a sermon to more than 300,000 mosques in the country. It invokes verses from the Quran to prevent Bangladeshis from joining the path of radicalism, foundation chief Shamim Mohammad Afzal told Agence France-Presse.

“It is not mandatory, but we hope imams will follow our sermon or take inspiration from it,” Afzal said to Benar News, adding, “Our core message is [that] there is no place for terrorism in Islam. We want to make sure our children cannot be brainwashed to commit an act of terrorism.”

Meanwhile in India, Indian security agencies have made at least two IS-linked arrests since the Dhaka attack.

The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested a civil contractor, identified as Naser Yafai Chaus, 31, who hails from the Parbhani district of Maharashtra state, on Thursday.

While the department would not confirm the basis for Chaus was arrested, sources said he allegedly had contact with an IS handler in Syria.

On Tuesday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) claimed to have arrested Naimathullah Hussaini alias Abu Darda from Hyderabad, alleging that he was involved in recruiting youngsters from the south Indian city for the IS.

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More than 40 suspected IS operatives have been arrested in India since the formation of the terror outfit in 2014.

At least 23 Indians have left for Iraq and Syria to fight alongside the IS, which has called Hindu-majority India an enemy nation in its propaganda material, according to intelligence agencies.

However, the figure could be higher, analysts warned after reports emerged that 21 Muslims missing from different districts of south India’s Kerala state over the last month may have joined the IS.

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D.C. Pathak, former chief of India’s Intelligence Bureau, told BenarNews that the IS threat to India was real.

“They have come near our homes. They are knocking at our door,” Pathak said in reference to the recent Dhaka attack. “It is time to fend it with vigour.”

Moushumi Basu of the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the Indian government should acknowledge IS a threat.

“[The government] has to take stock of the situation. It has to chalk out a proper plan to prevent Indian youth from joining such radical outfits. It has to identify and focus on resolving the issues driving our youngsters to join jihad or other forms of extremism. Simply a backlash from a recent terror attack or a knee-jerk reaction won’t solve the problem,” she added. (Benar News)

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)