Hassanal Bolkiah, sultan of Brunei Darussalam, has sought to toughen the existing Sharia law penal code in the country. Effective April 2014, offenders of the revised law, such as adulterers face death by stoning, amputation of limbs for theft, as well as flogging for alcohol consumption and abortion, among other types of punishments.
"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," the Sultan of Brunei said in an address to the educational and legal conference Knowledge Convention in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan, according to the Brunei Times report.
"By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled."
The revised and expanded Sharia law penal code only applies to the Muslims, who comprise two-thirds of Brunei's population of 420,000. Calling it "a part of the great history of our nation," the country's existing Sharia law penal code is limited only to family matters like marriage and inheritance.
The oil-rich kingdom, found on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Asia's South China Sea, said it has been working for several years on the new code. Two-thirds of the population adhere to the Sunni Islam religion, while 13 per cent are Buddhist and 10 per cent Christian.
As expected, human rights activists immediately blasted the upcoming new law.
"Respect for basic civil and political rights is near zero in Brunei," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told AFP. "Brunei is showing its feudal characteristics as an 18th-century state rather than an important member of a regional Southeast Asian economic and social consensus in the 21st century."
Mufti Awang Abdul Aziz, the country's top Islamic scholar, meanwhile, said foreigners need not feel scared of the new law as long as they abide the rules of the kingdom.
"Do all potential tourists to Brunei plan to steal? If they do not, then what do they need to fear," he said. "Believe me when I say that with our Sharia criminal law, everyone, including tourists, will receive proper protection."
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