The Prime Minister’s comparison of the case of Zakir Naik and that of Sirul Azhar Umar is, with respect, misconceived.
News reports have confirmed that India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED) is set to secure an arrest warrant against Zakir and others in an ongoing trial in Mumbai under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
In Sirul’s case, the Federal Court had, in 2015, set aside his acquittal by the Court of Appeal and affirmed his conviction and death sentence with another person in connection with the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu.
It is a known fact that Australia has a policy against the death penalty and refuses to extradite Sirul on the basis that he faces same upon his return to Malaysia.
In other words, if not for the death penalty, it is likely that Australia would extradite Sirul, for example, in the event his death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment.
As such, it is clear that Sirul has exhausted all his legal avenues and remains a convict facing the death penalty whereas Zakir has not been convicted and only faces a trial in India for now.
The most obvious feature which distinguishes Sirul’s and Zakir’s cases, therefore, is the fact that Australia’s refusal to extradite Sirul is not on account of his inability to receive a fair trial, but because he faces the death penalty as he has been convicted.
Australia is not questioning if Sirul received a fair trial in Malaysia prior to his conviction and we should, likewise, not question if Zakir will or will not receive a fair trial in India as countries ought to respect each other’s legal systems unless, perhaps, if it is that of a rogue nation such as North Korea, in which case, discretion may be exercised against repatriation.
In May this year, Malaysia repatriated Praphan Pipithnamporn to Thailand upon a request made by that country despite fears that Praphan would not receive a fair trial under Thailand’s strict lese-majeste laws which was condemned by various quarters, including Human Rights Watch.
The PM was reported as saying then that Malaysia had no choice but to do so as Thailand had requested Praphan to be extradited.
The position is the same in Zakir’s case.
Zakir faces criminal charges in India and may well be acquitted if he successfully defends himself there. As such, his case cannot be compared to Sirul’s.
Malaysia’s reluctance and possible refusal to repatriate Zakir to India if India requests the same, can also cause unnecessary tensions in bilateral relations between the two countries.
With respect, such an outcome would certainly not be in the best interests of both countries and Malaysia should repatriate Zakir to his country to face the charges levelled against him there.