"Theory states that God's law is harsh and unfair, but God himself has said that his law is indeed fair," the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said today.
According to the first phase of the law, those who have a child out of wedlock, fail to pray on Friday or promote religions other than Islam will be forced to go before an Islamic court and could face jail time or fines.
The second phase is set to be implemented a year from now and includes whippings and amputations for crimes such as alcohol consumption and theft.
A year after that, those who commit adultery, sodomy or insult the Prophet Muhammad could face a death sentence.
Brunei, a tiny nation with a population less than the city of Boston, is about 70 percent Malay Muslim and has at least a 15 percent ethnic Chinese non-Muslim minority.
It is one of the wealthiest countries per capita in the world, relying heavily on natural gas and oil exports for its income.
Although it is the first east Asian country to fully adopt the criminal component of Sharia law on a national scale, it is the latest instance of rising religious conservatism in the region. Various forms of Sharia law already exist in both Indonesia and Malaysia.
What Is Brunei's Sharia Law?
Until today, Brunei’s judicial system had been governed by civil law, left over from its days as a British protectorate.
Sharia law had already existed in the country in various capacities but was primarily relegated to social customs and familial matters for Muslims. The sultan’s decision now applies Sharia law to all citizens of the country, Muslim or otherwise.
The Brunei Times reported that the introduction of Sharia “reflects the pious monarch’s love for Islam and keenness to seek pleasure of Allah. The step is necessary to ensure that the country’s criminal law is in line with Syariah [Sharia] as directed by Allah.”
The announcement did not come entirely as a surprise.
The government of Brunei has been gradually imposing more restrictions on social and civil life in recent months.
A senior judicial official announced in February that “indecent behavior” would be illegal under Sharia law for both Muslims and non-Muslims and punishment would include a fine or imprisonment.
The United Nations Human Rights has condemned the sultan’s decision, saying it was “deeply concerned.” Punishment by stoning constitutes torture and cruel and unusual punishment under international law.
Other critics of the new legal system in Brunei have voiced their concerns on social media in recent months but were quickly silenced after the sultan reminded the country that those who openly criticized the law could also face harsh punishment.
In 1996, Michael Jackson performed for the sultan’s 50th birthday, a performance that could now be illegal under this new legal code.
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