Leading Malaysian rights groups have decried the arrest and prolonged remand of a local actor over his perceived insult to the powerful crown prince of the Johor sultanate, with one activist saying it was yet another instance of police in the state “abusing” the country’s communication laws. Patrick Teoh, a 73-year-old veteran radio announcer and actor, was arrested on Saturday over a Facebook post in which he used an expletive in response to an old video of the crown prince Tunku Ismail Ibrahim handling firearms and training with personnel from the Johor Military Force (JMF) – a tiny private army maintained by the sultanate. The royal – who is widely known as “TMJ” (Tunku Mahkota Johor) and who often stirs controversy through his own remarks on social media – has not commented on the saga. Police said they started an investigation following complaints by two members of the public. The detention – and investigators’ decision to hold Teoh in remand instead of questioning him without arrest – immediately sparked outcry among activists who claimed the police were overreacting. Johor police chief Ayob Khan had earlier said Teoh was being held for a prolonged period because he was being “uncooperative”, but on Tuesday was quoted by local media as saying “there has been some cooperation from him”. Teoh’s lawyer Rajan Navaratnam said the police had argued they needed more time for investigations after Teoh told them he could not remember the passwords to his mobile and email account. “The reasons for the extension were that they needed to record statements from other witnesses and they need to secure his handphone,” Rajan was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times . “Not being able to remember his password … can it be a ground to justify an extension? In any event, a suspect is entitled under the law to remain silent during the course of an investigation,” he said. Malaysian shoppers rush to supermarkets on fake news the Johor Crown Prince would foot the bill Disquiet within Malaysia’s civil society over Teoh’s continued detention – which comes as the country remains in partial lockdown mode to curb the spread of Covid-19 – was demonstrated by a coordinated release of statements on the matter by the leaders of four prominent rights groups. The groups took particular issue with the Johor police’s use of the country’s Communication and Multimedia Act to remand Teoh when investigations could have been conducted without detaining him. The law has been used against government critics in the past. Section 233 of the 1998 act disallows public dissemination of “any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”. But Sevan Doraisamy, executive director of the rights group Suaram, said the use of the law to arrest and remand an individual for allegedly insulting the royal institution “is an abuse of the law as any investigation for such offence can be done remotely without the need for prolonged remand”. Sevan said Johor police were “notorious” for using Section 233 for mass arrests “made for comments made on football” and there was a trend of requesting extensive remand periods for alleged crimes that do not require detention. How Facebook era made the monarchies of Malaysia, Brunei relevant again Lim Wei Jiet, the secretary general of the National Human Rights Society, or Hakam, said there was “no basis to invoke the remand procedure primarily because Patrick Teoh had at all times cooperated with the police”. Siti Zabedah Kasim, founder of the Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity group, said Teoh’s purportedly offending insult was a “common satirical phrase” that was not intended to be a “rude taunt”. She called on the crown prince to “disassociate himself from such an insignificant complaint and implore for Patrick Teoh’s immediate release”. Melissa Sasidaran, director of the Lawyers for Liberty group, said Teoh’s remand was “clearly unnecessary, excessive and appears to have been intended as pretrial punishment for the alleged crime”. The crown prince has for years elicited polarising responses due to his flamboyant social media persona and willingness to openly criticise elected officials, even though doing so goes against royal norms in the Southeast Asian country. His ongoing duel with the now-ousted former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad constantly grabbed headlines during the nonagenarian leader’s second stint as premier from May 2018 to earlier this year. Mahathir labelled him “stupid” and a “little boy” last year after coming under attack from the crown prince. Singapore knew, Johor crown prince didn’t? Mahathir defends port venture Soon after Mahathir was toppled by a political coup in March, Ismail uploaded a picture of himself on Instagram with the caption: “Who’s your daddy?” The crown prince is most active on Instagram, where some 2.3 million users follow his daily stream of pictures and videos showcasing his family and his lifestyle, which involves managing the football club he owns, playing polo, and training with the JMF. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.