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India charges Tablighi Jamaat chief with culpable homicide after coronavirus surge

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has brought charges of culpable homicide against the chief of a Muslim seminary for holding a gathering last month that authorities blame for a big jump in coronavirus infections, police said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Men wearing protective masks sit inside a bus that will take them to a quarantine facility, amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Nizamuddin area of New Delhi, India, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

The headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat group in a cramped corner of New Delhi were sealed and thousands of followers, including some from Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh, were taken into quarantine after it emerged they had attended meetings there in mid-March.

Authorities have said some of those infected at the gathering had died, although the numbers have not yet been released.

Police initially filed a case against Muhammad Saad Kandhalvi, the chief of the centre, for violating a ban on big gatherings but had now invoked the law against culpable homicide, a police spokesman said.

“Delhi police had filed a first information report earlier against the Tablighi chief, now section 304 has been added,” the officer said, referring to culpable homicide in the penal code, which carries a maximum punishment of a 10-year prison term.

A spokesman for the Tablighi Jamaat group, Mujeeb-ur Rehman, declined to comment saying they had not confirmed reports about the new charges.

The Tablighi is one of the world’s biggest Sunni Muslim proselytising organisations with followers in more than 80 countries, promoting a pure form of Islam.

India has 12,759 cases of coronavirus and 420 deaths. The federal health ministry said it had identified 170 districts out the country’s total of 720 as red zones with the highest number of cases.

These included the big cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Hyderabad and the country is under lockdown.

“We want to stop the virus from spreading into non-red zones,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry.

In New Delhi, 1,080 of its 1,561 cases were linked to the group’s gathering, according to the city government data on Wednesday.

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The Tablighi administrators earlier said many of the followers who had visited its offices in a narrow, winding lane in Delhi’s historic Nizamuddin quarter were stranded after the government declared the three-week lockdown, and the centre had to offer them shelter.

FANNING COMMUNAL TENSIONS

Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government have cautioned against fanning communal tension by laying the blame for the spread of the coronavirus on the Muslim group.

The Tablighi was also linked to a surge of cases in neighbouring Pakistan where it cancelled a similar gathering, but only at the last minute when thousands had already arrived at a premises in the city of Lahore.

A gathering organised by the group in Malaysia also led to a surge of cases there and in several other Southeast Asian countries.

Pakistan has recorded 6,505 cases according to its latest data, a jump of 520 over the previous day. About 60 percent of Pakistan’s cases load was linked to the Tablighi or were people who had gone on religious pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia and Iran, officials said.

On Thursday, Pakistan’s central bank cut its benchmark interest rate by 200 basis points to 9%, the third cut it has made since last month amid a warning from the World Bank that it could slip into recession in the current fiscal year.

Sri Lanka’s central bank also said it will cut its bank rate, the emergency funding rate for commercial banks, to 10%, an effective reduction of 500 basis points, to align it with falls in key rates since last May.

The moves underline efforts by policymakers globally to provide support to economies hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

Here are official government figures on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia:

* India has 12,759 confirmed cases, including 420 deaths

* Pakistan has 5,988 cases, including 107 deaths

* Bangladesh has 1572 cases, including 60 deaths

* Afghanistan has 784 cases, including 29 deaths

* Sri Lanka has 238 cases, including 7 deaths

* Maldives has 21 cases and no deaths

* Nepal has 16 cases and no deaths

* Bhutan has five cases and no deaths

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser

Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty in New Delhi, Swati Bhat in Colombo, Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi, Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad, Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Nick Macfie

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