International outcry as Brunei introduces sharia law and takes country back to the dark ages

Asia Correspondent 

The Sultan of Brunei, an absolute monarch who pays for a garrison of British troops to be stationed is his oil rich nation, will on Thursday dismiss the concerns of human rights campaigners and start imposing sharia law. Many of the laws, which include the dismemberment of limbs and stoning to death, will apply to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiahhe, 67, announced last year that he wanted to introduce a full sharia system and warned critics who took to social media that they could be prosecuted. “It is because of our need that Allah the Almighty, in all his generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilise them to obtain justice,” he said at the time.

The decision sparked condemnation from activists, and the leaders of other religions in Brunei expressed concern that they could suffer. The spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights said he was “deeply concerned” about the move.

But the thrice-married sultan has ignored such concerns and pressed ahead with his plans. In speech on Wednesday, he said the first part of a three-phase plan to introduce Islamic law would begin on Thursday.

“Today I place my faith in, and am grateful to Allah the almighty, to announce that tomorrow, Thursday, 1 May, 2014, will see the enforcement of sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases,” he said, according to the AFP news agency.

Brunei is two thirds Muslim and has long implemented some sharia, mainly for civil matters such as marriage. But last year the sultan, who is said to be worth £24 billion and lives in a 1,788-room palace, said he wanted to introduce full sharia to guard against the “challenges” of globalisation, including the impact of the Internet.

“When rulers do this, it is usually for domestic political reasons,” said Dr Anicée Van Engeland, a lecturer in law at SOAS, University of London.

Among the offences included in the laws are insulting the Prophet Mohamed, drinking alcohol, getting pregnant outside of marriage and “sodomy”. The latter will be punishable by stoning.

Britain granted independence to Brunei in 1984 but has maintained a close relationship ever since. A 1,000-strong regiment of the British Army, the Royal Gurkha Rifles, has been located there since the late 1950s and is paid for by the sultan. Last year Britain said the British Garrison Brunei, the last British troops stationed in the Far East, was the “linchpin” of relations between the two countries.

In March, the Ministry of Defence said it was in discussion with the authorities in Brunei to clarify whether the new laws would have any impact on the British troops. On Wednesday an MoD spokeswomen she was unable to comment on the outcome of the talks.

In a statement, Britain’s Shadow Defence Secretary, Vernon Coaker, said it was essential the government explained what discussions had taken place with the sultan.

“We must have clarity about any impact the introduction of sharia law might have on UK forces and their continuing presence in Brunei,” he said.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We are concerned about Brunei’s decision to introduce a sharia criminal code. Ministers have raised questions about the law’s implications and pressed for a lenient approach.”

Royal Dutch Shell, an Anglo-Dutch multinational, runs two major operations in Brunei as a joint venture with the Brunei government. A spokesman, Jonathan French, said the company would not comment on the possible impact on its employees.

The decision to impose sharia has been met with widespread condemnation. A number of celebrities, including Stephen Fry, urged people to boycott the Dorchester Collection chain of hotels owned by the sultan – among them the Dorchester Hotel in London – because the new law will make homosexuality punishable by death.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International said Brunei’s new laws will introduce stoning to death for acts that should not even be considered crimes. “[The new laws] will take the country back to the dark ages,” said Amnesty’s Rupert Abbott.

While Brunei, which has a total population of 400,000, has sizeable Christian and Buddhist communities. There are an estimated 30,000 Filipino citizens in Brunei, many of them Catholic, and the Philippine embassy has held meetings to explain to its citizens the implications of the new laws. Christian leaders have expressed concern that even baptisms could be in breach of the regulations.

The authorities in Brunei and the Brunei High Commission have repeatedly failed to respond to queries. However, according to a report in the Brunei Times earlier this year, Brunei’s most senior Muslim cleric, Dr Ustaz Hj Awg Abdul Aziz Juned, claimed that those criticising the new rules did not understand them.

The sultan was for many years was involved in a high-profile legal battle with his brother, a playboy accused of misappropriating £9 billion of government assets and who reportedly owned a yacht called Tits.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015