Brunei Imposes Islamic Criminal Law After UN Criticism

Brunei will start implementing Islamic criminal law, as the Southeast Asian country faces international criticism for a penal code that will eventually include death by stoning for rape, adultery and sodomy.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced today the enforcement of the initial stage of the penal code from tomorrow. The first phase of the law will include crimes that are punishable by fines or imprisonment, such as not performing Friday prayers, the Brunei Times reported.

The United Nations has criticized the sultanate for the new penal code and said this month the revisions contained provisions that violated the rights to freedom of religion, opinion and expression. The second phase takes effect a year after the code is gazetted and will introduce corporal punishment, while the third stage, two years after it is finalized, will see the enforcement of the death penalty, the Brunei Times reported.

“We repeat the history of Islamic law that was once practiced centuries earlier in this country,” the Sultan said today, according to a speech posted on his website. “We do not expect others to accept and agree with us, but it is sufficient if they just respect us, just as we also respect them.”

Brunei is the only Southeast Asian nation to implement Islamic criminal law, also known as hudud, with punishments including amputation for theft.

International Pressure

“One of the mysteries is why this law, why now?” said Sam Zarifi, the Bangkok-based Asia Pacific regional director for the International Commission of Jurists. “There needs to be continued engagement from the international community, and then pressure. Our hope is that the government of Brunei will reconsider, that it will take away the problematic provisions in the law.”

The oil-rich kingdom has a population of about 412,000 people, according to the World Bank. It is nestled between the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo and oil and gas exports contribute about 93 percent to government revenue, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Brunei gained independence from the British in 1984, and has been ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah since 1967.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said this month in-depth studies and consensus on the viability of hudud are needed before it can be implemented in that nation, the New Straits Times reported.

The revised penal code stipulates the death penalty for crimes including rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, insulting Prophet Mohammad or the Koran, and for robbery and murder, the United Nations said.

“Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offenses contravenes international law,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said April 11. “Brunei has maintained an effective moratorium on use of the death penalty since 1957 so we urge the government to establish a formal moratorium on the use of the death penalty and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether.”

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