While Brunei continues to pursue its aspirations of becoming a regional Islamic financial hub the implementation of full sharia (Islamic law) during the week means visitors will need to be on their best behavior.
However, while commentary in the West advises those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) to travel elsewhere lest they risk being stoned to death, the reality is not nearly as bad as some people are making out.
While adultery and sodomy are two offenses for which people can be sentenced to death by stoning following the implementation of the sharia penal code, they require four Muslim witnesses to prove. More importantly, to prove ‘zina’ (unlawful sexual intercourse) the witnesses need to be in a position to see the act of penetration take place.
The implementation of the full sharia penal code is the final steps of a process announced in 2013 of introducing a more conservative Islamic society than either Malaysia or (with the exception of Aceh) Indonesia in the region.
Brunei’s Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO) 2013 was penned as a result, with gradual implementation culminating in the adoption of the shariah penal code this year.
Shades of the caliphate
At the time of the SPCO being drafted Daesh was flexing its muscle and expanding throughout Syria and Iraq on a quest to build its own Islamic caliphate with sharia at its core.
Under the sharia penal code sodomy is one offense potentially resulting in death by stoning, along with adultery, rape, and blasphemy. Those guilty of other crimes may receive a public caning, while thieves could lose a hand or a foot.
According to the law punishments will be ‘witnessed by a group of Muslims’, though it is unclear if this refers to public executions along the style of Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, or more discreet such as by a panel of Islamic scholars.
As Daesh group cut a path of terror and destruction across Iraq and Syria it gained notoriety for throwing homosexual men from the tops of buildings, or drowning them in locked cages submerged in water.
The implementation of the sharia penal code came via a statement posted on the website of the Prime Minister’s office last Saturday (March 30), notifying the country’s 438,000 people that full implementation of sharia would come into effect from April 3.
Brunei Common Law to continue
The statement noted that Brunei Common Law will continue to operate in parallel, ‘to maintain peace and order and preserve religion, life, family and individuals regardless of gender, nationality, race and faith’.
Criticism of the country’s implementation of sharia and its provision for death by stoning and amputation has been widespread in the West, particularly by human rights advocates such as Amnesty International (AI). British parliamentarian Penny Mordaunt labeled Brunei’s decision to introduce the historic sharia penalties as “barbaric”.
British pop legend Elton John and Oscar-winning actor George Clooney are among a growing group of A-list celebrities calling for a boycott of assets, including nine hotels owned by Brunei’s government and its ruler, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien (Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah).
|Brunei just like its neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia already prescribes caning as a penalty for crimes Video Serambi TV|
The new penalties will apply equally to Bruneians as to visitors to the tiny country, in addition to those travelling on Brunei registered aircraft or vessels.
Similar to its neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia, Brunei had in the past prescribed caning as a penalty for crimes including immigration offenses and abortion.
Prior to this week’s changes alcohol was also already banned for Muslim Bruneians, while people of opposite sex who are not blood relations or married were prohibited from being alone together. Eating, drinking, or smoking in public during Ramadan (the fasting month) can see offenders fined up to B$4,000 (about US$2,964) and/ or a one-year prison sentence.
While homosexuality has always been illegal in Brunei and the death penalty has always been on the books, the last execution there was in 1957.
Internationally Brunei has remained defiant. Its March 30 announcement stating: ‘The (Sharia) Law, apart from criminalising and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam, also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race’.
Whether the implementation of the sharia penal code will see the tiny nation capture a share of the international Muslim travel market set to top 156 million people by next year and worth some $200 billion remains to be seen. It has traditionally not
While condemnation of the implementation of sharia has been vocal outside of the tiny monarchy, there has been no visible opposition to the new law internally, where Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 72, the world’s second-longest reigning monarch, rules with full executive authority. Public criticism of his policies is extremely rare, and elections are not held. Just like Thailand, any criticism of the monarchy (lèse-majesté) is illegal and carries harsh penalties.
Feature photo Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei
- Elton John joins call for boycott of Brunei-owned hotels (Bangkok Post)
- Brunei defends tough new Islamic laws against growing backlash (Reuters)
- Brunei’s new anti-gay law goes into effect this week. Here’s how the world is reacting (CNN)
Between November 2010 and February 2012 she was a staff writer at Daylight Online, Nigeria writing on health, fashion, and relationships. From 2010 – 2017 she worked as a freelance screen writer for ‘Nollywood’, Nigeria.
She joined AEC News Today in December 2016.