Brunei set to stone those found guilty of adultery and gay sex

Brunei is set to impose death by stoning on those found guilty of adultery and gay sex from next week, after shelving plans for this strict Islamic code in the past four years. The move appeared to have the support of its Muslim majority population, but attracted heavy criticism abroad.

Brunei's move will make it the second in the South-east Asia region to have these Islamic penalties, after Aceh province in Indonesia.

The Brunei High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, when queried on the issue yesterday, said it was "unable to give any information on this issue". At least six other countries apply these strict laws, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan.

Conservative Muslims view such laws as important in stopping what they see as major social problems.

The mufti of Malaysia's Perak state, Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria, when contacted, said that in Saudi Arabia, people could carry thousands of dollars in cash in plastic bags without fear. "Here in Malaysia, you can't do that... It (Islamic law) serves as a deterrent." The hands of thieves are amputated in Saudi Arabia.

This is not the first time Brunei is attracting global headlines for its drive towards conservative Islam.

It banned excessive Christmas celebrations in 2015 for fear that Muslims could be led astray.

Some Bruneians are pushing back against what they see as excessive criticism of the latest move. "Leave us alone. Just focus on your country," wrote one Hercules below a Malaysiakini news site story about the new laws. More than two-thirds of Brunei's 430,000 population are Muslims, with the remainder Buddhists, Christians and others.

 
 

It is not clear what prompted Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah to begin applying this strict Islamic code in the past few years, or why it was put on hold in the past four years.

What is also unclear is how some of the laws would be implemented, as multiple Muslim witnesses are needed for conviction.

In May 2014, Brunei began implementing fines and imprisonment for eating, drinking or smoking during fasting hours and skipping Friday prayers for men.

But a year later, in July 2015, fewer than 20 people had been convicted, mostly for smoking during fasting hours and for khalwat (close proximity between unmarried couples), locals told The Straits Times then. All the offenders were fined.

The new punishments are set to start on Wednesday.

A travel advisory by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs said the new code "applies to Muslims, non-Muslims and foreigners, even when on Brunei-registered aircraft and vessels".

• Additional reporting by Trinna Leong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2019, with the headline 'Brunei set to stone those found guilty of adultery and gay sex'. Print Edition | Subscribe