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Brunei's Islamic Shari'a Criminal Penal Code, Coming Into Force April 2014: Highlights


The Middle East Media Research Institute

April 6, 2014

The Islamic sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, known as Brunei, is ruled by Hassanal Bolkiah, who became the country's ruling monarch in October 1967 after his father Sir Haji Omar Ali Saifuddin abdicated the throne. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has two wives and rules by decree.

The far eastern Islamic sultanate is set to introduce Islamic Syariah (Shari’a) rule in April 2014. In October 2013, the sultanate approved Syariah Criminal Penal Code Order 2013, which will be implemented in phases. The Syariah Criminal Penal Code will be enforced on both Muslims and non-Muslims, according to Ustaz Hj Johar Hj Muhamed, the country's head Shari’a prosecutor.

The first criticism of the sultan's plan to introduce the Sharia' criminal penal code came from social media users. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah banned social media activists from attacking his plan to introduce Islamic Shari’a, warning: "They cannot be allowed to continue committing these insults, but if there are elements which allow them to be brought to court, then the first phase of implementing the Syariah Penal Code Order in April will be very relevant to them."[1]

The following are excerpts from two Brunei media reports on the penal code,[2] and highlights from the law from a media report:[3]

Report: "Wearing Indecent Clothing Is An Offense Under Section 197 Of The Syariah Penal Code"; "Any Person Who Commits An Act Of Indecent Behaviour In A Public Place... [Can Be Imprisoned] …  For A Term Not Exceeding Six Months"

"Wearing indecent clothing is a crime under the Syariah Penal Code Order that will soon be enforced in the Sultanate. Speaking during a briefing…, a senior Syariah legal officer of the Islamic Legal Unit at the Ministry of Religious Affairs said yesterday [February 3, 2014] that Muslims and non-Muslims can be punished for donning indecent clothing in public.

"Hj Hardifadhillah Hj Mohd Salleh, in response to a question raised by a participant, explained that wearing indecent clothing is an offense under Section 197 of the Syariah Penal Code Order. The section, titled 'Indecent Behaviour', states that any person who commits an act of indecent behaviour in a public place is guilty of an offense and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000, imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.

"An act is deemed indecent if it tarnishes the image of Islam, corrupts moral standards, causes negative influence or upsets eyewitnesses. Anyone who organizes, persuades or encourages others to commit any act of indecent behaviour is also guilty of an offense and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $8,000, imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both. There is no specific provision outlined in the new law, but Hj Hardifadhillah reiterated that offenders can be charged with wearing indecent clothing under Section 197.

"Taking into account Brunei's mainstream culture, the senior Syariah legal officer pointed out that it has become commonplace for people to dress in revealing clothing including shorts, commenting that such behaviour is seldom reprimanded. In order to avoid a public outcry, he explained that the relevant authorities will implement the Syariah Penal Code Order gradually and with wisdom. 'Just imagine, all this while, nobody cared about (wearing indecent clothing). So if we were to introduce these changes drastically, it could backfire,' said Hj Hardifadhillah, adding that their focus is on raising awareness of the new law.

"He said that while interpretation of indecent clothing is subjective, enforcement agencies will define what is tolerable and what is not under the 'Indecent Behaviour' section. 'If the person is wearing clothing that is too offensive or revealing, then the enforcement agencies should take action or at least advise the offender... But we will implement this provision with wisdom, so people won't be shocked and angered,' he said."

Report: "There Are 19 Words Which Cannot Be Used With Respect To Other Religions; They Are: Azan; Baitullah; Al-Quran; Allah; Fatwa; Firman Allah; Hadith…"; "For Adultery Between A Married Muslim And A Married Non-Muslim, Both Parties Can Be Punished By Stoning To Death"

"Words such as 'Allah', 'Mu’minin' (believer) and 'Masjid' (mosque) cannot be used with regards to another religion besides Islam, said a senior Syariah [Shari’a] officer yesterday [February 22, 2014]. Under the Syariah Penal Code Order, there are 19 words which cannot be used with respect to other religions. They are Azan; Baitullah; Al-Quran; Allah; fatwa; Farman Allah; Hadith; Haji; Hukum Syara; Ilahi; Ka'bah; Kalimah Al Syahadah; Kiblat; Masjid; Imam; Mufti; Mu’min; Solat; and Wali.

"Hj Hardifadhillah Hj Mohd Salleh, a senior Syariah legal officer of the Islamic Legal Unit, … briefed staff of the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) on key parts of the Order, which will take effect this April. Speaking to more than 200 people, the legal officer gave some examples of offenses that can apply to non-Muslims such as Zina (adultery) with a Muslim partner, drinking alcohol in a public place, and Khalwat (close proximity) with a Muslim partner.

"Khalwat is defined in the Order as a unmarried couple who are 'living together; cohabiting; in confinement; or isolating oneself in close proximity that can lead to suspicion that they are committing an immoral act.' If convicted, the penalty is a fine of up to $4,000 and/or one year in prison. For adultery between a married Muslim and a married non-Muslim, both parties can be punished by stoning to death if the offense is proved by confession, or the testimony of four eyewitnesses.

"Hj Hardifadhillah added that any person who instigates any Muslim man or woman to divorce, or neglect their duties towards their partner, can be fined up to $4,000 and/or jailed for a year. Additionally, any Muslim parent who surrenders his child into the care of a non-Muslim can be fined up to $20,000 and/or jailed for up to five years.

"Brunei will enforce the Syariah Penal Code Order in three phases. Present at the briefing was MIPR Minister YB Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya… Dato Paduka Hj Bakar and other senior officials from the ministry. The briefing was conducted by officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Prime Minister's Office, Attorney General's Chambers, and Islamic Dawah Centre yesterday."

Offenses under the Syariah Penal Code Order: Failure to Perform Friday Prayer; An Unmarried Female Muslim Leaving Parental Custody; Deriding Quranic Verses Or The Prophet Muhammad; Or Attempting To Leave Islam (Irtidad)

"Are all the offenses in this order applicable to Muslims only?

"Generally, this order applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims. However, there are certain offenses which are applicable only to Muslims, such as:

"* Failure to perform Friday prayer

"* Unmarried female Muslim who leaves custody of parents or guardian

"* Amongst the offenses that are applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims are committing zina or drinking intoxicating drinks. Nonetheless, the punishments imposed on non-Muslims are subject to conditions, i.e., if the non-Muslim commits zina with a Muslim or the non-Muslim drinks intoxicating drinks in public places….

"What are the offenses that amount to irtidad [apostasy, or leaving Islam]?

"*Offenses that amount to irtidad are, among others:

"*Declaring oneself as God

"*Declaring oneself as Rasul or Nabi [Prophet]

"*Contempt of Nabi [Prophet]

"*Deriding verses of Al-Quran, Hadith…

"*Declaring oneself as non-Muslim

"*Attempt to commit irtidad…."


[1] (Singapore), February 26, 2014.

[2] (Brunei), February 4, 2014, February 23, 2014.

[3] (Brunei), January 31, 2014.