Brunei introduced a stringent Islamic penal code on May 1 that refers to Sharia punishments and includes the severing of limbs for theft and death by stoning for adulterers. Earlier, the United Nations has voiced deep concern over Brunei’s plans to implement such laws as the country already abides by a graver form of Islamic law than neighboring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. The organization wanted Brunei to delay the changes so it could ensure the new laws comply with international human rights standards.
The state ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has prospered economically on oil and gas exports. Almost 75 percent of Brunei’s population comprises of Malay Muslims with the rest comprising Christians and Buddhists.
“Today I place my faith in and am grateful to Allah the almighty to announce that, Thursday 1 May 2014, will see the enforcement of Sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases,” said Bolkiah.
The new penal code was supposed to be implemented in April but it was delayed by a week. Now, it will be introduced over three years with offences in the first phase covered by fines and prison sentences. The second phase will include amputations and the third phase will include stoning for crimes like adultery and homosexuality.
While announcing the penal code in 2013, 67-year-old Bolkiah referred to it as “a part of the great history of our nation.” After his announcement sparked a controversy across social media in February, Bolkiah warned internet users to stop attacking his plans.
Earlier, judges were given discretion in sentencing and it is unclear to what extent the penal code would apply to non-Muslims. Brunei’s civil courts abide by British law and the Sharia courts were earlier restricted to preside over family matters like inheritance and marriage.
“Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited,” said spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville.
Colville fears the revised penal code may encourage further violence and discrimination against women due to deeply entrenched stereotypes.