The coronavirus quarantine period of Islamic sect Tablighi Jamaat's leader Maulana Saad Kandhalvi and six others ended on Monday, following which they will join a Delhi Police probe into allegations that he encouraged people to congregate and stay at Markaz Nizamuddin, trashing all coronavirus-related warnings of social distancing and defying a ban on large gatherings.
Maulana Saad, 56, had been under quarantine since March 28. His lawyer on April 8 said he will join investigation after the quarantine period ends.
Maulana Saad allegedly ignored two police notices to vacate the building in south Delhi's Nizamuddin.
In a sermon on March 23, he had called social distancing warnings a conspiracy to keep Muslims away from each other. "Where will you run from death? Death is in front of you...This is an occasion to seek penance from God. Not an occasion where one comes under the influence of doctors and stops Namaaz, meeting each other...Yes, there is a virus. But 70,000 angels are with me and if they can't save me, who will? This is the time for more such gatherings, not the time to avoid each other...," he says in the sermon, which is being investigated by the police.
In audio clips that emerged later, he is heard claiming that he is self-isolating in Delhi under a doctor's advice.
Over a thousand COVID-19 cases are estimated to be linked to the gathering at Markaz Nizamuddin, the 100-year-old building in the crowded south Delhi locality where the Tablighi Jamaat is based.
More than 25,500 local workers of the Islamic sect and people who came in contact with them have been quarantined.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, a Muslim organisation, had approached the Supreme Court seeking to stop sections of the media from allegedly giving a communal colour to reportage on COVID-19 cases linked to the event held by Tablighi Jamaat. The court, however, said on Monday that it will not pass any order that would lead to a "gag" on the media.
"If it's a question of killing or dying, your remedy is somewhere else. But if it's a question of larger reporting then the Press Council of India has to be made a party... I think you add the Press Council as a party to your case," Chief Justice of India SA Bobde told the petitioner. "We will not gag the press," said the Supreme Court bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and MM Shantanagoudar.
The lawyer for the Muslim organisation told the top court that the media and the government have been "constantly talking about Tablighi spreading coronavirus". "They're publishing the names and addresses of coronavirus patients. That's against the law," the lawyer said.