Muslim preacher Zamihan Mat Zin was arrested yesterday for sedition following a religious lecture in which he criticised a sultan - understood to be the Johor ruler - for barring a Muslim-only launderette, and called Chinese people "unhygienic".
National criminal investigation chief Wan Ahmad Najmuddin Mohd told The Straits Times the former officer with the government's Islamic Development Department, or Jakim, will be remanded today.
"He was arrested at 3.50pm, after he was summoned to have his statement recorded," he said.
The arrest comes after the Conference of Rulers issued a statement on Tuesday condemning moves to set up Muslim-only launderettes as divisive and tainting the reputation of Islam.
In a video of a lecture that has gone viral, the Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah Organisation president said the Muslim-only launderette controversy was sparked because the sultan commented on it.
"There was a sultan who had said Muslim-friendly launderettes are not allowed in his state. It is not right for the sultan to say such things. These launderettes are meant to show that Muslims prioritise cleanliness," he said. "Chinese usually don't wash after they urinate or defecate. What about menstrual blood on their underwear? Or if they had hugged a dog, or spilled alcohol or food containing pork? If they want to enter a laundry, then just go to a normal one."
Unique institution of rulers, governors
Malaysia's Conference of Rulers is a unique institution that brings together its nine Malay monarchs and the governors of the four states that have no royal family.
Although these rulers play a largely symbolic role in the federation's constitutional monarchy, they do wade into issues of public interest at times, and Malaysians pay attention.
In 2015, they expressed concern over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal involving graft allegations against Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The rulers' statements are not legally binding, and their authority on religious matters is in force only in their states. But as a collective, they wield huge influence over the administration of Islam nationally.
The conference's main task is to elect a Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Malaysia's king, every five years from among the nine rulers. The agong is tasked by the Constitution with safeguarding the special position of the Malays and indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak, and legitimate interests of all other communities. He also appoints the four governors.
The rulers meet three times a year, and as and when at least three members, or the agong, request a conference. Certain provisions of the Federal Constitution - pertaining to the special position of Malays and indigenous peoples - cannot be amended by Parliament alone and must have the approval of the Conference of Rulers.
In an interview with The Star last month, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said he could not accept "this nonsense" after news broke of a Muslim-only launderette in Muar. "This is Johor, which belongs to Bangsa Johor, and it belongs to all races and faiths. This is a progressive, modern and moderate state. This is not a Taleban state and as the head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature," he said.
The Conference of Rulers - made up of Malaysia's nine Malay rulers and the governors of the four states without royalty - backed Sultan Ibrahim, as well as the Crown Prince of Perlis, who also ordered a similar launderette in the northern state to drop its Muslim-only policy.
However, in a statement yesterday, Mr Zamihan denied criticising the Johor Sultan, saying he had not mentioned the ruler's name, nor used "words that were rough, rude or that had seditious elements". He said he was giving media outlets seven days to retract their articles and "wild allegations" before he took legal action for defamation.
Malaysia's sedition law prohibits discourse that sparks hostility towards other races, the rulers or the government.