(Bruneian Muslims pray during mass prayers for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 at Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan March 13, 2014. Malaysian authorities said on Thursday there was no evidence that a jetliner missing for almost six days flew for hours after losing contact with air traffic controllers and continued to transmit technical data. REUTERS/Ahim Rani )

(Bruneian Muslims pray during mass prayers at Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan March 13, 2014.REUTERS/Ahim Rani )

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.