Implementation of Syariah law
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
THE introduction of the Syariah Penal Code to Brunei Darussalam was perhaps the biggest local news story of 2014, making headlines at home and abroad, and provoking heated debate among the public.
The Brunei Times takes you back over the past year to review some of the key moments throughout the introduction of the legislation.
Syariah Penal Code comes into force
The first phase of the Syariah Penal Code Order came into force on May 1, six months after His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, made the announcement that Brunei would be returning to Islamic law, calling it “part of the great history of our nation”.
The monarch said the Syariah Penal Code was a revival of Islamic laws once practiced in the Sultanate centuries ago, and that it was his “personal obligation” to enforce God’s laws.
The legislation incorporates Islamic laws into the existing criminal justice system, including corporal punishment for _hudud _offences, where punishment has been fixed by the Quran and the Sunnah (deeds and sayings) of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
The move made international headlines, prompting criticism from human rights groups who decried some of the punishments prescribed under syariah, such as whipping, stoning and the death penalty.
“We have never viewed others in a negative light because what they do is within their rights and up to their individual choices. We also do not expect them to accept and agree with us, but it is sufficient if they respect us as we duly respect them,” His Majesty said in response to the criticism his government had received.
He added that the decision to implement the Syariah Penal Code was not made on a whim but it was to “act upon the command of Allah SWT as prescribed in the Quran and Sunnah.”
Flurry of debate
Since His Majesty’s announcement in October 2013, confusion and speculation was rife among the public about the effect the laws will have on day-to-day life.
Social media and news websites were over-run with comments and debate from ordinary citizens, prompting heated discussion.
During his annual titah (royal speech) to mark Brunei’s 30th National Day in February, His Majesty hit back at critics, calling for an end to insults directed towards the king, _ulama _and Syara’, amid rising dissent on social media.
He reminded the population that under the new laws, individuals can be punished for such offences.
Other senior government officials soon chimed in, with the State Mufti, Pehin Datu Seri Maharaja Dato Paduka Seri Setia (Dr) Ustaz Hj Awg Abd Aziz Juned, saying people made criticisms without proper understanding of the Islamic laws.
Brunei’s Attorney General, Datin Seri Paduka Hjh Hayati POKSDSP Hj Mohd Salleh, urged people to stop focusing on the punishments laid out by syariah, and instead see the due process in the Islamic justice system. She said in order for _hudud _punishments to be carried out, the courts must meet a high burden of proof such as testimony of several “credible” eyewitnesses.
Imams across the country also called on people to support the laws and to “show unwavering obedience to the leader of our country”.
Following widespread confusion, the government organised several briefings on the Syariah Penal Code in a bid to socialise the new legislation.
More than 40,000 people from 82 interest groups attended briefings, including members of the public and private sectors, foreign missions, NGOs as well as education institutions.
Some 10,000 surveys were also distributed to assess the public’s level of understanding of the new laws.
Implementation of the new laws
The first phase of the new law began on May 1, covering general offences that are punishable by ta’zir (penalties set by the government, and are punishable by fines and/or imprisonment). Crimes listed under this section include disrespecting the month of Ramadhan and propagating religions other than Islam.
Harsher punishments for serious crimes, such as amputation of limbs for theft, will be introduced in the second phase, while the death penalty will only come into force in the third phase, pending the finalisation of the Syariah Courts Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).
The Syariah CPC outlines the procedures for law enforcement to conduct investigation and prosecution. At the time of publication, the Syariah CPC has yet to be gazetted.
Officials say the phased introduction of the legislation will give the public and law enforcement time to get used to the new laws.
The Syariah Penal Code applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, except for specific offences that are applicable only to Muslims, such as apostasy.
First conviction under Syariah Penal Code
In July, an Indonesian man became the first person to be convicted under the Syariah Penal Code after he plead guilty to disrespecting the month of Ramadhan.
Eko Sulistono, a mechanic, was caught smoking in public during fasting hours and fined $2,500.
In another turn of events, several reports have been made of individuals posing as Syariah enforcement officials in order to extort bribes from members of the public.
The Brunei Times