United Nations Association of Australia

Brunei implements sharia law

Published On: May 14 2014

Brunei has become the first East Asian country to adopt sharia law. The first of three phases came into effect on May 1st for violations such as not fasting during Ramadan, missing the Friday prayer, and pregnancy outside of marriage -  which can be punished with fines or jail time.

In the subsequent second phase due to begin in 12 months: Muslims who commit theft or drink alcohol can then be punished with whippings or the amputation of limbs. In the third year - the final phase will extend the penal code to use capital punishment, including through stoning, for adultery, sodomy and insulting the prophet Muhammad.

"The death penalty for such a broad range of offenses contravenes international law. Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited" Rupert Colville of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights said.

Criminalising consensual sex between adults, let alone applying the death penalty for it, breaches a series of rights, while the new code also violates freedom of religion, opinion and expression, Colville added. He further expressed concerns about the implementation of sharia law's impact on women. "A number of UN studies have revealed that women are more likely to be sentenced to death by stoning, due to deeply entrenched discrimination and stereotyping against them."

The law applies to those of all religions in the sultanate, where Muslim Malays constitute a 70% majority of the country's 400,000 citizens, the news agency reported. Non-Muslim Chinese account for about 15% of Brunei's population. The laws were announced by Brunei's 67-year-old monarch who is head of state, head of government, defense minister and finance minister.

Muslims in neighbouring Malaysia are subject to a version of sharia law that doesn't include amputation or death sentences, and Indonesia's Aceh province also has the less severe form of Islamic law. Conservative Brunei, where alcohol is banned, is the only Asian Pacific country to impose the harsh form of religious law practiced in parts of the Middle East and South Asia.

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