KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 18 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today “it was quite clear” Dr Zakir Naik had attempted to incite racial hate.

The prime minister’s comment is likely the strongest censure made so far towards the controversial preacher.

Dr Mahathir said Dr Zakir overstepped the line when he told ethnic Chinese to “go back first” and questioned the loyalty of Malaysian-Indians in two separate instances, calling the Mumbai-born preacher’s words incendiary.

The Langkawi MP also said Dr Zakir had transgressed his privilege as a foreigner with a permanent resident status by issuing political statements, and that he backs police investigation against the Indian fugitive.

“In the first place, I don’t know who gave him PR status, but as a PR, you cannot participate in politics,” the prime minister told reporters here.

“You can talk about Islam, preach, but he did (play politics) that when he said send the Chinese back... it is quite clear that he wants to play racial politics.”

Dr Zakir provoked the full wrath of a government that was otherwise seen apologetic of the popular evangelist when he was said to have questioned the loyalty of Malaysian-Indians at a talk delivered in Kelantan weeks ago.

Just shortly after, the defiant preacher issued a statement aimed at Malaysian-Chinese, saying they should “go back” first since they too are seen as “guests”.

Dr Zakir said the assertion was made in response to the community’s demand that he be deported back to India, where the preacher is facing charges for alleged money laundering and terrorism link.

He is now facing police investigation under Section 504 of the Penal Code for intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace after 115 public complaints were filed against him.

Dr Mahathir, who up until recently was seen reluctant to deport the Indian national, today called Dr Zakir’s statement inflammatory and insensitive, and that his administration would let the law take its course.

“What he said is bad,” the prime minister said.

“People here are trying their best not to say those things. Even I would not dare say those things.

“But now the police is investigating him so we will (let them)… this government respects the rule of law.”

Dr Mahathir had recently hinted that Dr Zakir could have his PR status revoked by Putrajaya should it be proven that his actions have harmed the country’s well-being.

The prime minister said the government would first wait for the result of the police investigation into the fugitive preacher’s alleged inflammatory remarks against minorities in this country, before deciding the next course of action.