Barred Peace TV preacher Zakir Naik prompts UK hate laws review

Former head of British counter-terrorism will lead investigation into new law to stop hate behaviour

Zakir Naik has been cited as an example of why the UK needs to review its extremism laws. Jeff Topping / The National

The actions of barred Indian preacher Zakir Naik, whose Peace TV stations have been fined for hate speeches, have prompted a review into UK hate laws.

Dr Naik ran two television stations, Peace TV and Peace TV Urdu, which were fined £300,000 last month by the UK’s media regulator, OfCom, for broadcasting hate speeches and incitement. An investigation has been launched into the charity he founded that funded them.

He was barred from the UK in 2010 but continued to operate the channels until last year. The Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) on Tuesday cited Dr Naik's channel as an example of Islamist extremism, which has led to a review of the powers available to the authorities to take action against acts of hate.

The CCE believes there are gaps in the law allowing extremists to "sow divisions" and are looking into whether a new law could be introduced.

The commission has found evidence of a number of incidents where hateful behaviour has happened but failed to meet the threshold to be considered a crime under the current law, not only from Dr Naik but also Haitham Al Haddad of the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamic Council of Europe.

Dubai - August 27, 2009 - Dr. Zakir Naik can be seen on the TV monitor as he speaks before 15,000 people at the Dubai Airport Expo Center in Dubai August 27, 2009.  (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)  *** Local Caption ***  JT008-0827-DR. ZAKIR NAIK_MG_0707.jpg

“Islamist equivocation about violence manifests in several ways,” it said.

“First, making the moral case for violence against perceived enemies of Islam. Preachers such as Haitham Al Haddad and Indian preacher Zakir Naik have characterised Muslims who leave their faith as a “threat” and committing “treason” respectively, before making the case for capital punishment.”

Former UK prime minister Theresa May barred Dr Naik from the UK when she was home secretary, over inflammatory remarks he had previously made.

“Numerous comments made by Dr Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behaviour,” Mrs May had said in a statement, without elaborating.

“An individual will be excluded if their presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good. We make no apologies for refusing people access to the UK if we believe they might seek to undermine our society.

“Exclusion powers are very serious and no decision is taken lightly.”

In the recent OfCom ruling against Dr Naik’s television stations, it found that four programmes breached broadcasting rules on incitement to commit crime, hate speech, abuse and offence after they aired diatribes that described people “worse than animals” and advocated the execution of magicians.

Two of the breaches were made by Dr Naik. Islamic scholar Mr Al Haddad has also preached on Peace TV.

OfCom ruled that the broadcasts were “very serious” and could encourage vulnerable viewers to commit killings.

Sheikh Haitham Al-Haddad of the Islamic Sharia Council in the room they use for counselling (they try not to call it a court) in the Masjid & Madrasah al-Tawhid (Mosque) in Leyton, east London, while their own building is being re-built.  Photograph by Jonathan Player for The National, November 23rd 2009.

The operations of Dr Naik’s charity, the Islamic Research Foundation International, are currently being investigated by the Charity Commission.

Dr Naik, who is based in Malaysia, has also been barred from travel to India and Bangladesh.

Those two countries have accused him of inspiring terror acts. Bangladesh alleged that in a terrorist attack on a tourist cafe in Dhaka in 2016, one of the suspected perpetrators had been inspired by his sermons and followed him on Facebook. Dr Naik is also accused by the Indian government of laundering £23 million (Dh107m).

On Wednesday, the CCE announced its legal review, which will be led by the British former head of counter-terrorism Sir Mark Rowley, into the evidence of abuse it has found that is not covered under current UK terrorism legislation or hate laws.

From inspiring acts of violence and terrorism to the incitement of hatred and hostility often aimed at those with a protected characteristic, extremists are having a devastating impact on victims

It says victims have repeatedly told the CCE that they felt let down by the authorities and are concerned that existing powers are not being used effectively or consistently.

Extremism issues concern Islamist and far-right incidents.

The commission has identified recent extremist far-right posts related to infecting people with coronavirus on social media platforms such as Gab and 4chan.

These channels have been used by terrorists including Christchurch attacker Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 people in two mosques.

"Hateful extremism threatens our ability to live well together,” Sara Khan, the head of the commission, said.

"From inspiring acts of violence and terrorism to the incitement of hatred and hostility often aimed at those with a protected characteristic, extremists are having a devastating impact on victims, on cohesion in our towns and cities and in undermining the social fabric and democratic norms of our country. Hateful extremism demands a response.

"Yet despite this, our ability to counter repeat and persistent offenders is inconsistent and often ineffective.

"When extremists engage in terrorist activity, they are often caught by robust counter-terrorism legislation. But when they incite hatred, engage in persistent hatred or justify violence against others, extremists know they will not cross over into the threshold of terrorism.

"As a result, many extremist actors and organisations, whether far-right, Islamist or other, continue to operate with impunity in our country, both online and offline.”

Scotland Yard's former head of counter-terrorism, Sir Mark Rowley, will lead a legal review into the UK's terror laws. AFP Photo

Mr Rowley will be looking at existing laws and how they are used to see if a new offence could be created.

"Extremism, hate crime and terrorism have all been increasing challenges for our communities and society as a whole," he said.

"While I was in post as head of counter-terrorism policing for four years, I knew that we had strong counter-terrorism system, resources and laws in place.

“However, I increasingly realised that nationally we are less experienced and ready to address the growing threats from hateful extremists."

He will report his findings later in the year.

The CCE was launched in March 2018 after the London Bridge terrorist attacks in 2017.