While the country of Brunei planned to introduce severe Islamic criminal punishments to be put into effect by April 22, the country decided to postpone the laws.
The delay is “due to unavoidable circumstances,” according to Jauyah Zaini, the assistant director of the Islamic Legal Unit.
Brunei is a wealthy sultanate, due to its large reserves of oil and gas, and is ruled by the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the richest men on the planet. The majority of the country is made up of ethnic Malays, with smaller groups of Chinese, Indians and indigenous groups in the country.
As a former British protectorate, Brunei’s civil courts are based on British law. Sharia law was mainly practiced for family complications, marriage, and inheritance. However, once implemented, the new penal codes will widen the scope of Islamic law to a broader range of possibilities.
The new Sharia criminal punishments are medieval, extreme, and potential violations of human rights. For example, the code allows, “stoning to death to punish rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations [for Muslims], defamation of the Prophet Mohammed, insulting any verse of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, and declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim.”
Robbery is punishable by amputation and drinking alcohol will result in flogging.
The United Nations is one of the few international organizations that has taken a stand in opposition against the new penal codes.
“Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” UN members said. “It is thus clearly prohibited.”
Sultan Bolkiah reasoned that the Sharia Penal Code would only pertain to Muslims as a “special guidance” from God. Muslims comprise around two-thirds of Brunei’s population of 420,000.
However, it is naïve to assume that the laws will not be applied to non-Muslims by law enforcement. Both non-Muslims and Muslims are prohibited from drinking alcohol in Brunei, and thus there is a high possibility that the other one-third of the population will be subjected to the penal codes.
Sultan Bolkiah called the penal code, “a part of the great history of our nation” in October and said that the new laws would not drastically change Brunei’s existing policies. Does this suggest that the penal codes are simply ceremonial and will not be enforced? Brunei still has the death penalty, but its last execution took place in 1957. Perhaps these codes are merely there to project an image of religious devotion.
Countries and international organizations should not wait to observe whether or not these penal codes will actually be enforced. These criminal punishments are a violation of human rights and all of Brunei’s citizens can potentially be subjected to the inhumane penal code.
— Sarah Yan