Bandar Seri Begawan (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Death by stoning for adultery, amputation for thieves, flogging for other crimes such as abortion and alcohol consumption are just some examples of the progressive Islamisation of Brunei, a sultanate located in Southeast Asia. Over the next six months, a new Sharia-based Penal Code will come into force.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (pictured), one of the richest men in the world, made the official announcement this morning, reflecting a more conservative shift in the kingdom. "By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled," the sultan, 67, said in a speech.
For centuries, the sultan's family has ruled over this small but oil-rich kingdom of 400,000 people. In power since 1967 when he was 21, the sultan in 1996 called for the introduction of Islamic law and punishments.
Compared to other countries in the region such as Indonesia and Malaysia, a more conservative and fundamentalist form of Islam is already dominant in Brunei. The sale and consumption of alcohol are prohibited in public and the authorities carefully monitor the activities of other religions.
The new Sharia-based Penal Code would apply only to Muslims, but it is unclear whether it would be applied with extreme rigor or more tolerance.
The country has a dual legal system with civil courts based on English law and Shariatic courts enforcing family and inheritance laws.
Brunei is 70 per cent Muslim and ethnically Malay; 15 per cent is made up of non-Muslims of Chinese origin, followed by indigenous peoples and other minority groups.
Despite reassurances that judges would have wide discretion in applying the code, a substantial part of the population is afraid that Sharia will be enforced in a rigid and inflexible way. Yet, this has not been enough to hold back the sultan's 'Islamisation' push for the country.