Brunei sultan pushes ahead with Shariah

File - General view of the Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque during a mass prayer session in Bandar Seri Begawan, in this March 13, 2014. (REUTERS/Ahim Rani)

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

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

Plans for the Shariah penalties – which will eventually include flogging, severing of limbs and death by stoning – triggered condemnation on social media sites in the tiny, sleepy 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 – forged ahead, dismissing “theories” that the code was unjust.

“Theory states that God’s law is cruel and unfair but God himself has said that his law is indeed fair,” the sultan, dressed in traditional Malay garb, said in delivering the decree at Brunei’s convention center.

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.

The initial phase beginning Thursday introduces fines or jail terms for offenses ranging from indecent behavior, failure to attend Friday prayers, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

A second phase covering crimes such as theft and robbery is to start later this year, involving more stringent penalties such as severing of limbs and flogging.

Late next year, punishments such as death by stoning for offenses including sodomy and adultery will be introduced.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 01, 2014, on page 11.




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