In 2014, Brunei enacted the new Syariah Penal Code, which is said will apply to all, including non-Muslims, which also had offences that carried the death Penalty. It is important to note that Brunei has maintained an effective moratorium on the use of the death penalty since 1957.
Brunei decided that implementation the new Syariah Penal Code would be done in 3 phases, whereby the phases were determined based on the type of penalty – Phase 1(fines and/or jail), Phase 2 (severing of limbs, flogging,…) and Phase 3(death).
The initial phase introduces fines or jail terms for offences including indecent behaviour, failure to attend Friday prayers, disrespecting the month of Ramadhan, propagating religions other than Islam and out-of-wedlock pregnancies. This was implemented beginning May 2014.
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.
The third phase will be the death penalty offences -death by stoning for offences including sodomy and adultery will be introduced.Rape, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, insulting any verses of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, and murder are the some of other death penalty offences.
The second phase was initially to be implemented beginning end of 2014, but apparently it was not. The reason was because there needed to be a Syariah Courts Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), which will outline procedures for law enforcers in carrying out investigation and prosecution.
In February 2016, HIS Majesty it will be 2018 by the time the third phase of the Syariah law can be enforced.Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, ordered authorities to explain the two-year delay in the phased enforcement of Syariah Penal Code Order.(Brunei Times, 28/2/2016 – HM questions delay in Syariah law enforcement)
In response, the minister of religious affairs later said that the Brunei government is targeting to complete the Syariah Courts Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) by June this year before it can enforce the second phase of the Islamic criminal law by June 2017 (Brunei Times, 28/2/2016 – Gov’t targets Syariah CPC completion by June).
His Majesty did indicate that it will be 2018 by the time the third phase of the Syariah law, which brings in the death penalty, can be enforced.
Brunei introduces Islamic sharia penalties, including death by stoning for adultery
May 2, 2014
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei: A controversial new penal code for oil-rich Brunei that will eventually include tough Islamic sharia penalties such as severing of limbs and death by stoning came into effect on Thursday.
Brunei’s all-powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah had said on Wednesday that he would push ahead with the introduction of the new criminal code that has sparked rare domestic criticism of the fabulously wealthy ruler and international condemnation.
The initial phase beginning introduces fines or jail terms for offences including indecent behaviour, failure to attend Friday prayers, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
There were no known events to mark Thursday’s implementation.
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 offences including sodomy and adultery will be introduced.
The sultan – one of the world’s wealthiest men – had announced the implementation last year.
He first called for the penal code in the late 1990s and has increasingly voiced plans to strengthen Islam’s role in the already conservative, energy-rich Muslim country on Borneo island.
But the plans by the revered father-figure monarch triggered unprecedented criticism earlier this year on Brunei’s active social media, though the move appears to enjoy broad support, especially among Muslim ethnic Malays, who make up about 70 per cent of the population.
The UN’s human rights office and various international rights and legal activist groups also have condemned the move as out of step with modern society.
Brunei is the first country in east or south-east Asia to introduce a sharia penal code on a national level, joining several mostly Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Attorney-General Hayati Salleh late on Wednesday sought to ease concerns over the code’s implementation, stressing that sharia cases will face high burdens of proof before the tough penalties are imposed.
“It is crucial that we, and the international community, understand these distinctions and not focus solely on the punishments but rather, on the evidence-gathering process that is complicated and strict,” she said.
The monarch’s wealth – estimated three years ago at $US20 billion ($21.6 billion) by Forbes magazine – is legendary with reports of a vast collection of luxury vehicles and huge, gold-bedecked palaces.
The monarchy was deeply embarrassed by a sensational family feud between the sultan and his younger brother Jefri Bolkiah over the latter’s alleged embezzlement of $US15 billion ($16.2 billion) during his tenure as finance minister in the 1990s.
Court battles and investigations revealed salacious details of Prince Jefri’s un-Islamic jet-set lifestyle, including allegations of a high-priced harem of Western women and a luxury yacht he owned called “Tits”.
AFP – Sydney Morning Herald
UN concerned at broad application of death penalty in Brunei’s revised penal code
11 April 2014 – The United Nations human rights office today voiced deep concern about the revised penal code in Brunei Darussalam which stipulates the death penalty for numerous offences, including robbery, adultery, and insult or defamation of the Prophet Mohammed, and introduces stoning to death as the specific method of execution for crimes of a sexual nature.
Rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, insulting any verses of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, and murder are the other offences for which the death penalty could be applied under the revised code, which is due to come into force on 22 April.
“Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes international law,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“We urge the Government to delay the entry into force of the revised penal code and to conduct a comprehensive review ensuring its compliance with international human rights standards,” he told a news conference in Geneva.
Noting that Brunei has maintained an effective moratorium on the use of the death penalty since 1957, OHCHR urged the Government to establish a formal moratorium and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether.
Among other measures, the revised code introduces stoning to death as the specific method of execution for rape, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations.
“Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited,” stated Mr. Colville.
He added that a number of UN studies have also revealed that women are more likely to be sentenced to death by stoning, due to deeply entrenched discrimination and stereotyping against them, including among law enforcement and judicial officers.
The criminalization and application of the death penalty for consensual relations between adults in private also violates a whole host of rights, including the rights to privacy, to equality before the law, the right to health and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, Mr. Colville noted.
“The provisions of the revised penal code may encourage further violence and discrimination against women and also against people on the basis of sexual orientation,” he warned. – UN News Centre
By Rui Hao Puah
The tiny oil-rich state of Brunei, no bigger than the state of Delaware, grabbed headlines in 2014 when it became the first country in Southeast Asia to introduce a Sharia penal code at the national level.
The Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, who also holds the position of prime minister, first announced the law in October 2013, prompting sharp criticism from human rights group and the western media. According to the United Nations commissioner for human rights, the new penal code contravenes international law when it is applied to such a broad range of offenses and includes sometimes “inhuman or degrading torture or punishment.” Opposition also came from groups advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Asia and concerns about the law’s impact on women due to gender discrimination.
Phase one of the law was implemented in May 2014 after some initial delay. It penalized acts such as not fasting during Ramadan, missing Friday prayers, and giving birth out of wedlock with fines, prison sentences, or both. So far, fewer than 20 people reportedly have been convicted, mostly for smoking during fasting hours or close proximity between unmarried couples.
Phase two was expected to be implemented within 12 months of phase one, but has been “delayed until further notice” according to an official with Brunei’s Ministry of Religious Affairs in July. The second phase would include provisions for severing of limbs and flogging for theft and alcohol consumption, while the final phase would allow capital punishment such as stoning for adultery, sodomy, or insulting the prophet Mohammad.
The U.S. Congress has been wary of Brunei’s Sharia penal code in the context of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, of which Brunei is a member. In June 2014, 119 lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to call for a stop to further TPP negotiations with Brunei until its criminal code is revoked. In February, members of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus also assailed the administration for including countries that are hostile toward gay communities, including Brunei and Malaysia, in trade agreements. In Brunei, gay sex can be punishable by the death penalty.
While concerns among some in the United States about Brunei’s Sharia law have not yet been implemented, it could potentially become a bigger issue as TPP countries work to reach a deal by the end of the year and Congress becomes more involved in issues of human rights and transparency in the trade agreement.
In the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation, which both the House of Representatives and the Senate approved in April authorizing President Barack Obama to “fast-track” trade deals, Congress requires that the president adhere to a number of negotiating objectives, one of which is the promotion of human rights. According to this objective, trade agreements should “promote respect for internationally recognized human rights and more open and democratic societies.” A full implementation of the Sharia penal code in Brunei will certainly go against this mandate. It remains to be seen whether more members of Congress will object to the current state of Sharia law implementation in Brunei.
Ejecting the oil-rich kingdom of over 400,000 people from the trade pact may be tricky, considering Brunei was one of the founding members of the TPP, along with Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore. Yet other democratic countries in the TPP, including Australia and Canada, have either criticized or questioned Brunei over its Sharia laws.
The sultan’s controversial move did not come out of the blue. He first proposed a Sharia penal code back in the 1990s, calling Islam a “firewall” against globalization. His government may also seek to reform Brunei’s ailing, oil-dependent economy by attracting Islamic investment in banking, finance and services, and views the implementation of Sharia law as a boost to the sultanate’s Islamic credentials. He may also see Sharia laws as a tool to tighten his political rein; while many of Bruneians hold cushy public sector jobs and benefit from petrodollar, state-funded welfare, rising unemployment among Bruneian youth has resulted in an uptick in crimes and dissent, which has found its expressions online and through text messaging apps.
Brunei, which bans the sale of alcohol and restricts other religions, has traditionally practiced a relatively conservative form of Islam compared to its Muslim-majority neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia. Although ethnic Muslim Malays, who make up 70 percent of the population, have been broadly supportive of the government’s implementation of Sharia laws, non-Muslim Malays and other ethnic groups have privately expressed unease. Government estimates put non-Muslims, including Buddhists and Christians, at 34 percent of the population.
These factors mean that renouncing a Sharia legal system for trade purposes may present a difficult choice for the Brunei government. But for Washington, leaving this issue untouched while it has asked other TPP countries to adopt reforms to improve their governance and human rights records may go against Congress’s TPA negotiating objectives.
Mr. Rui Hao Puah is a researcher with the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at CSIS.
HM questions delay in Syariah law enforcement
Sunday, February 28, 2016
HIS Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, yesterday ordered authorities to explain the two-year delay in the phased enforcement of Syariah Penal Code Order.
The monarch said the Syariah law has remained “stagnant” without any progress after being actively pursued for a brief period following the launch of the Order in 2014.
Delivering his titah during a meeting with the Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB) at the Legislative Council (LegCo) building, His Majesty questioned how many of the Syariah law provisions have been enforced.
[Related story: Gov’t targets Syariah CPC completion by June]
[Related video: HM questions delay of Syariah law enforcement]
“How long has passed since it was launched and gazetted until now? It has already been two years but it is still at the stage where only general offences are dealt with.
“What about the other phases? When will they be implemented? I expect the ministry concerned might respond by saying that the Syariah Penal Code could not be fully enforced at this stage because the CPC (Syariah Courts Criminal Procedure Code) has not been finalised,” the Sultan added.
The CPC outlines the rules for conducting criminal proceedings, from the investigation to prosecution.
His Majesty said authorities might respond by saying they are still waiting for the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) to finalise the vetting of the draft documents.
“My next question is when will the draft law be sent to the AGC? Their response might be that it was already sent in 2014,” His Majesty said.
The Sultan went on to say that if this was the case, it is most regrettable because two years have passed and yet the CPC has not been completed.
“How thick is the draft? The AGC might tell us there are many other legal documents that need to be urgently dealt with too. The vetting of the CPC will only be able to be finalised in June 2016, after it has stalled for two years,” the monarch said.
His Majesty said this is an “unacceptable excuse”.
“It is as if people will be under the impression that the Syariah Penal Code is worthless as a law mechanism. Where is the Minister of Religious Affairs? And where is the Attorney General? Why have they not come forward to remedy this unsatisfactory situation?” the Sultan questioned.
The first phase of the Syariah Penal Code was enforced on May 1, 2014. His Majesty added that before the second phase can be implemented, the country has to wait for another 12 months after the CPC can be gazetted.
“Now two years have gone by, but the CPC is not gazetted yet and the vetting process has not even started. This means that after it is gazetted in 2016, we have to wait another year, until 2017 before the second phase can be implemented.”
He said it will be 2018 by the time the third phase of the Syariah law can be enforced.
“So when will the penal code be ready to be fully implemented? Is it true to say that the officers responsible in vetting the draft legislation could not do so as a matter of urgency? Is it just a matter of vetting or did they intentionally refuse to vet?” His Majesty questioned.
The monarch asked why had the religious affairs minister and attorney general failed to keep tabs on how the work was being done by their officers.
“May I remind all that we did not formulate the law out of whims and fancies but we do it solely for the sake of Allah, not in pursuit of glamour. Working for Allah must be done earnestly,” His Majesty said.
His Majesty also raised concerns on the direction and future of Arabic education in the country.
Arabic schools are established to bring forth those who are competent in religious knowledge, with the objective of eventually getting Islamic scholars or ulama. With this in mind, Arabic schools must prioritise religious subjects such as Arabic language, fiqh, tauhid, Quran, hadith and tafsir, he said.
He added that this must be done without ignoring the importance of subjects such as Malay language, English language and Mathematics.
Everything went well since the inception, but Arabic schools introduced the science stream from the 1980s, making it compulsory to take Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Additional Mathematics – subjects that are available in mainstream schools under the Ministry of Education, he said.
This meant that students who took the science subjects are required to reduce the number of religious subjects so that it will not be too burdensome, and thus science subjects came to gain more prominence than religious subjects, he continued.
Science stream classes at Arabic Schools currently only offer classes up to O-levels. After completing their O-levels, the students would have to transfer to mainstream schools if they wish to pursue the sciences.
“At that point, they are no longer considered students of Arabic schools and they completely stop studying religious subjects after their O-levels,” he said.
The monarch said there is a need to review the impact of introducing the sciences in Arabic schools when it was implemented in the 1980s.
“Unfortunately, no such research has been done, we do not know the implications whether good and bad of introducing Science stream classes back in the 1980s,” he said.
The Arabic religious education system is experiencing major changes with the implementation of the National Education System for the 21st Century (SPN21).
Under the education system, Arabic school students will be able to master both religious and Science stream subjects. Year 11 students at Arabic secondary schools will have to sit for two major examinations, including the O-levels for their mainstream subjects and the Brunei Islamic Studies Certificate (SPUB) for their religious curriculum.
In Year Nine, the students will be divided into three streams based on their results: 1) fast track Science stream for students who obtained excellent results; 2) normal track Science stream for students who obtained ‘very good’ results; and 3) Arabic stream for students who obtained ‘good’ results and below.
The Sultan said the grading of the three streams reflects that the Arabic stream is of third class level, not on par with the other two categories.
They are also required to study all subjects for their SPUB and O-level examinations simultaneously, possibly doubling the number of subjects that need to be taken in mainstream schools, he added.
“Wouldn’t such a system make it burdensome for Arabic school students and difficult for teachers to teach and complete the syllabus with that many subjects?”
He added that this can cause students to choose the Science stream over the Arabic stream.
The monarch said it is generally known that religious education subjects are more difficult and taxing compared to the other subjects, a factor that can push students away from Arabic classes in favour of the sciences.
“All these need to be deliberated on as thoroughly as possible to save and popularise religious subjects so that they will be seen as a good choice, more attractive and more appealing than non-religious subjects, not a means to open an opportunity for them to get away or escape from.
“This is a matter of much concern to me – the future direction of Arabic schools. Are their roles fading into irrelevancy or diverting towards another direction. All these call for a thorough reassessment to turn back to its original course. Let it not be changed,” he added.
The monarch said da’wah (dissemination of Islamic teachings) in the country is still weak and needs to be strengthened amid uncertain times and social ills affecting the country.
Among the issues raised were the number of propagators at the Islamic Da’wah Centre and whether they were properly trained.
“In addition to having many propagators, we want the da’wah delivered to be effective. Effective da’wah is successful da’wah,” he said.
His Majesty pointed out that one important medium of the da’wah is through the mimbar. The mimbar is a pulpit where the imam delivers the sermon in mosques.
“It is vital to deliver effective messages in the sermons. That is why all aspects must be taken into account, starting from preparation, content, writing, policy guidelines and lastly, the individual who will deliver the sermon,” he said.
His Majesty said it is important to practise discretion in deciding the content of the sermon, adding that the content must be appropriate.
He gave an example of an incident where SEA Games become the topic of a sermon. “The khatib (sermon readers) called upon congregants and Muslims to flock to the stadium to witness the events that would take place. We might say that sports is not something Islamically impermissible, but for a khatib to persuade and herd people to the stadium, in my opinion, is something that needs to be given thorough deliberation.
“Have we exhausted all topics and there is no other more important issue other than the SEA Games? This is what discretion is in the choice of topic along with the need to adhere to policy guidelines on sermons,” he added.
The Sultan said khatibs need guidelines on the correct way of delivering the sermon.
“Some readers are too tense and some were repetitive in their presentation. Is this what is expected of them by the Mosque Affairs Department? Where are the mosque affairs officers? Have they not come across incidents like these,” he asked.
Official visits and functions
His Majesty went on to say that it is not necessary for both the Minister of Religious Affairs and his deputy to make visits together as one should stay at the ministry and attend to pressing matters, such as the need to formulate policies for schools and the Islamic Da’wah Centre.
“The minister and his deputy minister should not simply enjoy making visits upon visits, for instance to schools, mosques and elsewhere. In doing so, both of them pay a visit to the same place and enjoy media coverage,” His Majesty said.
The monarch also said there is no need for all senior government officials to attend official functions that were held either in the day or at night.
“It is alright to make a visit and hold a function, but if the events are becoming too many and frequent, what about office work and worse, if too many attend them – the minister, his deputy minister and a horde of other officers! Is it not more reasonable for one of them to make the visit while the other stays behind?
“Is it not true that there are a lot of more pressing matters that need to be dealt with and given serious thought in the office?
He said other pressing matters include formulating policies for schools, Islamic Da’wah Centre, mosques, zakat (tithes), following up on the development of new converts, maintenance and upkeep of Muslim cemeteries and burial grounds, as well as halal certification.
Following the meeting, His Majesty visited the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which houses several units under the Islamic Religious Council before making a stop at the Islamic Da’wah Centre.
Gov’t targets Syariah CPC completion by June
Sunday, February 28, 2016
THE Brunei government is targeting to complete the Syariah Courts Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) by June this year before it can enforce the second phase of the Islamic criminal law by June 2017, the minister of religious affairs said.
Yang Berhormat Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Awg Badaruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Awg Othman said his ministry and the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) are working towards finalising the CPC, which outlines procedures for law enforcers in carrying out investigation and prosecution.
The drawing up of the CPC has not been easy because this is “something totally new”, the minister told The Brunei Times when asked the reason of the delay in producing the Code.
[Related story: HM questions delay in Syariah law enforcement]
[Related photos: HM tours Religious Affairs Ministry]
[Related video: HM questions delay of Syariah law enforcement]
The minister was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting between His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and Brunei Islamic Religious Council members at the Legislative Council building yesterday.
During the meeting, His Majesty questioned the Ministry of Religious Affairs and AGC over the long wait in completing the CPC.
YB Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Awg Badaruddin said the draft of the CPC had been completed, but authorities are still checking every aspect of of the legislation and involving experts to provide their input. “The AGC has also been working on (simultaneous) tasks such as reforms on laws on FDIs and the ease of doing business. They are working very hard,” he added.
The first phase of the Syariah Penal Code Order came into force on May 1, 2014, six months after the Sultan made the announcement that Brunei would be returning to the Islamic law.
The first phase covers general offences that are punishable by ta’zir (penalties set by the government, and are punishable by fines and/or imprisonment). Crimes listed under this section include disrespecting the month of Ramadhan and propagating religions other than Islam.
Harsher punishments for serious crimes, such as amputation of limbs for theft, will be introduced in the second phase pending the completion of the CPC.
Responding to the Sultan’s titah on Islamic education in Arabic schools, YB Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Awg Badaruddin said Arabic school students are required to take general subjects and religious studies. “This has become a burden for the students according to His Majesty, and it is not fair for the students. His Majesty has asked us to review this and the ministry welcomes His Majesty’s titah, we will look into this.
“We will also review this together with the Ministry of Education and look into the future of Arabic schools in Brunei,” he added.
In his titah, the Sultan said propagation is weak and needed to be strengthened, and questioned how many trained propagators were working at the Islamic Da’wah Centre.
The minister said training is provided for propagators at Seri Begawan Religious Teachers University College (KUPU SB) where they can obtain Diploma in Teaching (Tauhid), Diploma in Teaching (Tafsir and Hadith), Diploma in Teaching (Fiqh) and Diploma in Teaching (Fiqh and Usul Fiqh).
He added another option is to look abroad to scout for other centres that train propagators.