“I place my faith in and am grateful to Allah the almighty to announce that tomorrow Thursday May 1, 2014 will see the enforcement of Sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases,” said Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the absolute ruler of the tiny Southeast Asian kingdom.
“The decision to implement the (Sharia penal code) is not for fun but is to obey Allah’s command as written in the Quran,” media reported the 67-year-old monarch as saying.
Starting May 1 Brunei citizens can be fined or jailed by Islamic courts for offences such as not performing Friday prayers, pregnancy out of wedlock, propagating other religions and indecent behavior. This constitutes the first phase of the law.
A second phase of punishing those who steal or consume alcohol with whipping and amputation of limbs will come into effect after a year.
The third phase of stoning to death as the specific method of execution for crimes of a sexual nature, will take effect within two years. This includes rape, adultery, sodomy, consensual same-sex relations and extramarital sexual relations for Muslims.
Same-sex relations have long been a crime in Brunei, but the maximum punishment till now has been a 10-year prison sentence.
Insulting the prophet Mohammed or any verses of the Qur’an, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, will also be punished with death by stoning.
The law will also apply to non-Muslims.
Almost three-quarters of those who live in Brunei are Muslims, the rest being Buddhists, Christians and those following indigenous animism. There are also some 30,000 mostly Catholic Filipino migrant workers.
World organizations were quick to condemn the Brunei’s promulgation of Sharia law.
The United Nations human rights office said it was “deeply concerned” about the new law and the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes basic international law.
Amnesty International said Brunei’s new laws will introduce stoning to death for acts that should not even be considered crimes.
The US-based Human Rights Campaign that promotes equality rights for the LGBT community condemned the law as “draconian,” saying that death by stoning for same-sex relations was “horrific and sickening.”
Muslim-majority Brunei gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1984 and has kept close ties with its former colonial master. About 1,000 British troops guard the sultan’s palace.
A spokesman for the British Foreign Office said it was concerned about Brunei’s decision to introduce Sharia law, media reported
Brunei is extremely wealthy because of its petroleum and natural gas fields and is classified as a developed country.