Judge Mohd Nazri Yusof ordered the case to be transferred to the Syariah High Court in Kuala Terengganu, a move which surprised the prosecution.
Mohd Nazri said he was exercising his powers under Section 101 of the Syariah Criminal Procedure (Terengganu) 2001 Enactment.
The followers had been charged under Section 10 of the Syariah Criminal Offence Enactment (Takzir) Terengganu 2001 for not adhering to a state fatwa (edict) declaring the teachings as deviant.
They were detained at the sect commune at Kampung Batu 13 in Hulu Besut on July 2 last year.
Among them was Nik Kamariah Nik Pah, 34, the fourth wife of sect leader Ariffin Mohamad, 66, better known as Ayah Pin.
Also charged was Rosli Abdul Samad, 38, the commune’s public relations officer, who was once a drummer with a popular rock band.
At the outset of the hearing, Mohd Nazri questioned chief prosecutor Mustafar Hamzah regarding a similar case being tried at the Syariah High Court.
“Are they facing the same charge, and are all the accused the same persons as here?” he asked.
Mustafar acknowledged they were facing the same charge, and the majority of the 18 accused were also being tried at the Syariah High Court.
Mohd Nazri, who took over the post from Wan Abdul Malik Wan Sidek recently, asked why the case was transferred to the Syariah High Court.
Mustafar replied that it was because the case initially involved 58 accused and there was not enough space in the Syariah Lower Court.
“It was due to the fact that it was a case where there was public interest … for security reasons,” he said.
(The 47 followers being tried in the Syariah High Court were detained at the sect’s commune on July 21 last year.)
Mohd Nazri said the Syariah High Court would set a date for the trial of the 18 accused.
Mustafar later told newsmen he would ask the Syariah High Court judge to postpone the trial pending the completion of the case involving the 47 accused.
“This is to avoid any confusion,” he added.