Brunei adopts sharia law, others in Southeast Asia consider it
The sultanate of Brunei this week becomes the first East Asian country to introduce Islamic criminal law, the latest example of a deepening religious conservatism that has also taken root in parts of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia.
Brunei, a tiny former British protectorate of about 400,000 nestled between two Malaysian states on Borneo island, relies on oil and gas exports for its prosperity, with annual per capita income of nearly $50,000 (29,715 pounds). It is the first country in east Asia to adopt the criminal component of sharia at a national level.
Run by Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, 67, Brunei has no national elections, but any discontent has been assuaged by high, tax-free incomes and benefits like free education and health care.
By 2035, though, Brunei’s net exports of oil and gas will almost halve, according to the Asian Development Bank. Efforts to diversify the economy have made limited progress.
The sultan, said by diplomats to have become more religious, announced the introduction of sharia as a “great achievement”.
From Wednesday, residents of the country dominated by Malay Muslims face conviction by Islamic courts and fines or jail terms for offences like pregnancy outside marriage, failure to perform Friday prayers, and propagating other religions.
A second phase comes into effect 12 months later covering offences for theft and alcohol consumption by Muslims, punishable by whipping and amputations.
The death penalty, including by stoning, will be introduced in the final phase a year later for offences including adultery, sodomy and insulting the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad.
Most of the laws will also apply to non-Muslims.