Oil kingdom Brunei to introduce sharia criminal law

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah chairs the ASEAN Plus Three Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, October 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ahim Rani

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (Reuters) - Oil-rich Brunei will enforce sharia criminal law next year, the Islamic kingdom’s sultan announced on Tuesday, with possible punishments including stoning to death for adultery and flogging for drinking alcohol.

The law would be enforced from April, said the 67-year-old sovereign, Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world’s wealthiest people, who has presided over a shift to more conservative Islam and anti-sedition laws in recent years.

Power is concentrated with the monarchy and the country does not hold elections.

“It is because of our need that Allah the Almighty, in all his generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilize them to obtain justice,” said the sultan, who also holds the post of prime minister.

Many crimes under the new code have a high burden of proof and sharia court judges would have discretion over punishments, which could also include amputations for theft.

The tiny kingdom, which has Southeast Asia’s highest per-capita income after Singapore, has been preparing to introduce the sharia penal code for years. In the past, the sultan has said that sharia criminal law should be established to work alongside the country’s civil law more prominently.

Brunei, which neighbors two Malaysian states on Borneo island and has a population of just over 400,000, already enforces Islamic teachings more sternly than Malaysia and Indonesia, the other majority Muslim countries in Southeast Asia. The sale of alcohol is banned and evangelism by other religions is strictly forbidden.

The sultan added that the government’s overall policies would not be affected by the legal change, in a possible nod to foreign investors.

With its oil reserves set to run out in about two decades, the government has embarked on a strategy to promote development in sectors such as tourism, halal products and manufacturing.

Reporting by Malai Hassan Othman; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Nick Macfie