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Brunei pushes ahead with tough sharia code

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Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.— PHOTO: Reuters
Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.— PHOTO: Reuters

The sultan of oil-rich Brunei announced that tough Islamic criminal punishments would be introduced on Thursday, pushing ahead with plans that have sparked rare domestic criticism of the fabulously wealthy ruler and international condemnation.

“With faith and gratitude to Allah the almighty, I declare that tomorrow, Thursday May 1, 2014, will see the enforcement of sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases,” the absolute monarch said in a royal decree on Wednesday.

Plans for the sharia penalties — which will eventually include flogging, severing of limbs and death by stoning — triggered condemnation on social media sites in the tiny sultanate earlier this year.

Confusion has swirled around implementation following the unexplained postponement of an expected April 22 start date that raised questions over whether the Muslim monarch was hesitating. But 67-year-old Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah — one of the world’s wealthiest men — said in his decree that the move was “a must” under Islam, dismissing “never-ending theories” that sharia punishments were cruel in comments clearly aimed at detractors.

“Theory states that Allah’s law is cruel and unfair but Allah himself has said that his law is indeed fair,” he said.

Bruneians enjoy among the highest standards of living in Asia due to the country’s energy wealth.The sultan first proposed the sharia penal code in 1990s, and in recent years has increasingly warned of rising crime and pernicious outside influences such as the Internet. He has called Islam a “firewall” against globalisation.

He announced the implementation plans in October.

Brunei is the first country in East or Southeast Asia to introduce a sharia penal code on a national level.

Situated on Borneo island, which it shares with Malaysia and Indonesia, the small state already practised a relatively conservative form of Islam compared to its Muslim-majority neighbours, banning the sale of alcohol and restricting other religions.

Muslim ethnic Malays, who make up about 70 percent of the population, are broadly supportive of the move by their revered father-figure.

But some Malays and non-Muslim citizens privately express unease. About 15 percent of Brunei's people are non-Muslim ethnic Chinese. — AFP

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