Brunei's sultan announced Tuesday that new Islamic criminal laws – which could include amputation for theft and stoning for adultery – will be enforced in six months in the Southeast Asian country.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said the Shariah Penal Code, which would be applied only to Muslims, should be regarded as a form of "special guidance" from God and would be "part of the great history" of the tiny, oil-rich monarchy on Borneo island.
"By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled," the sultan said at a legal conference in Brunei's capital.
The country’s Shariah Islamic court previously handled mainly family-related disputes. The sultan had been hoping for years to implement the new law to bolster the influence of Islam in Brunei, where Muslims comprise about two-thirds of the population of nearly 420,000 people.
The minorities are mainly Buddhists, Christians and people with local indigenous beliefs.
Brunei's Mufti Awang Abdul Aziz, the country's top Islamic scholar, said at the conference Tuesday that the Shariah law "guarantees justice for everyone and safeguards their well-being."
Under secular laws, Brunei already prescribes flogging with a rattan cane as a penalty for crimes including immigration offenses.
Awang said there should be no concerns that foreign travelers might end up avoiding Brunei after the law is implemented.
"Do all potential tourists to Brunei plan to steal? If they do not, then what do they need to fear?" he said. "Believe me when I say that with our Shariah criminal law, everyone, including tourists, will receive proper protection."
The implementation of Shariah criminal law is not expected to face vocal opposition in Brunei, which has long been known for conservative policies such as banning the public sale of liquor.
Sultan Hassanal, who has reigned since 1967, is Brunei's head of state with full executive authority. Public criticism of his policies is extremely rare.
The Associated Press