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Brunei introduces tough new Shari'ah punishments



October 23, 2013: The Sultan of Brunei introduced tough Sharia-law punishments on Tuesday including death by stoning for crimes such as adultery, hailing what he called a "historic" step toward Islamic orthodoxy for his sleepy country.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah -- one of the world's wealthiest men -- said a new Sharia Penal Code in the works for years was officially introduced Tuesday in the tiny, oil-flush sultanate and would be phased in beginning in six months.

Based on individual cases, punishments could include stoning to death for adultery, severing of limbs for theft, and flogging for violations ranging from abortion to alcohol consumption, according to a copy of the code. The code applies only to Muslims. "By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled," the sultan, 67, said in a speech.

An absolute monarch whose family has tightly controlled the languid, oil-rich country of 400,000 for six centuries, the sultan first called in 1996 for the introduction of Sharia criminal punishments. The sultan already imposes a relatively conservative brand of Islam on his subjects, compared to Brunei's Southeast Asian Muslim neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia. Brunei bans the sale and public consumption of alcohol and closely restricts other religions.

But Sharia has been a rare point of contention in a land where the sultan's word is unquestioned, with many Bruneians quietly grumbling that the concept is out of step with the affluent country's laid-back ethnic Malay society. "These rights-abusing policies are a good indication of why modern democracy and the right of people to participate in their government is a much better idea than anachronistic absolute monarchy," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

The situation shows that "respect for basic civil and political rights is near zero in Brunei," he added. The monarch himself has acknowledged concerns over Sharia in recent years as the code was being drafted.

Nearly 70 percent of Brunei's people are Muslim ethnic Malays. About 15 percent are non-Muslim ethnic Chinese, followed by indigenous tribes and other groups. In the past year, the government introduced mandatory religious education for all Muslim children and ordered all businesses closed during Friday prayers.

In his speech, the sultan appeared to try to assuage any international concerns that may arise, saying the Sharia change "does not in any way change our policies ... as a member of the family of nations."
(Source: UCAN)




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