A group of activists and academics on Monday issued a statement condemning the “targeting” of Delhi minorities panel chief Zafarul Islam Khan on social media, as well as the government’s action of filing sedition charges against him. On April 30, Khan was charged with sedition for allegedly making provocative statements on social media.

On April 28, Khan in a tweet had thanked Kuwait for “standing with Indian Muslims,” in context of the large-scale communal violence that broke out in North East Delhi in February. In his tweet, Khan had also praised controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, claiming he was a “respected household name in the Arab and Muslim world”. He had later apologised for his remarks. It is alleged that Naik inspired one of the terrorists in the 2016 attack on a Dhaka restaurant.

Clashes had broken out between the supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and February 26 in North East Delhi, killing 53 people and injuring hundreds.

The statement

“We, the undersigned, condemn in the strongest possible words, the targeting of Dr Zafarul Islam Khan by the Islamophobes over his posts on social media,” the statement published on Monday read. “We also condemn the action of government against him by booking cases under sections 124A [sedition] and 153A [promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth] and raiding his house on 7th May 2020.”

The signatories included researcher Indira Rani, social activist Khaleda Parveen, retired Osmania University Professor Padmaja Shaw and Mirza Asmer Beg from the Aligarh Muslim University, among others.

The signatories said Khan is a renowned Islamic scholar and intellectual with international fame. They claimed that Khan had made the tweet “in times when Muslim community is continuously targeted, their leaders and intellectuals and religious scholars are defamed and the common Muslims being subjected to attacks and destruction of their houses and business establishments thereby making them economically weak”.

The activists and academics said that the international community, especially the Arab world, has observed the targeting of the Muslim community in India. “Thus the Arab world has shown solidarity with the Indian Muslims and requested the Indian government to protect the human rights of Indian Muslims,” the signatories said. “Recently Canada also has taken action against Islamophobia posts on social media and warned that they will not tolerate any kind of Islamophobia.”

The signatories said that it was in this context that Khan thanked Kuwait for “raising voice against the Islamophobes and standing with the oppressed Muslims in India”. They asserted that Khan’s post did not violate any law or cause discord among communities in India, and hence the raid on his house was worthy of condemnation.

The signatories said the targeting of Khan on social media did not stop even after he had apologised for his remark. “His post on the social media has been blown out of proportion and deliberately misinterpreted by the anti-Muslim Hindutva brigade whose sole intention is to assassinate the character of Dr Zafarul Islam Khan,” they claimed.

The activists said that Khan is the founder of the Mili Muslim Gazette, and through his scholarly works and “services to the nation” has attained the love and respect of both Indians and the international community. They said Khan has always upheld the democratic constitutional values of India, and defended the country in the Arab World. “How can such a patriot like him who has contributed to resolving many issues of the Indian religious minorities under his able chairmanship of the Delhi Minorities Commission be charged for sedition?” the statement asked.

The signatories also asked whether anybody who had targeted Khan on social media had been charged so far. “Have the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] ministers and leaders [been] booked under any case for their hateful, instigating and vengeful speeches?” it added.

The signatories alleged that the police’s action against Khan was an effort to “stifle the voice of a great leader”. They also claimed that India is “fast becoming Islamophobic” and that it is clear that democracy and justice are on the decline in the country.

“We demand that the hate propaganda against Dr Khan be immediately stopped and those responsible for this malicious hate campaign against both Dr Khan and the Indian Muslims are brought to book,” the signatories said. “We also demand that all charges against Dr Zafarul Islam Khan be dropped with immediate effect.”