Brunei has deferred implementing a set of harsh Islamic criminal laws, including stoning for Muslim adulterers, after the move drew criticism from human rights group and the United Nations.
The criminal laws known as Sharia were originally scheduled to take effect Tuesday but their implementation was moved due to “unavoidable circumstances,” the Brunei Times reported, citing Jauyah Md. Zaini, assistant director of the government’s Islamic Legal Unit. No new implementation date was specified.
However, Ms. Jauyah was quoted as saying that the enforcement was slated to take place “in the very near future.”
Islam has long been the official religion of this tiny, tropical kingdom, which practices a more conservative version of the faith than its Muslim-majority neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia.
Brunei, with a population of more than 400,000, has one of the highest per-capita incomes in Southeast Asia, thanks to its offshore oil reserves in the South China Sea.
The Sharia criminal laws unveiled in October and expected to come into force Tuesday would deepen the role of Islam in the country’s judiciary. At present, Sharia laws are limited to personal and family issues, such as marriage disputes.
The new laws will apply to a much broader range of offences, including robbery and extramarital sexual relations, which could be punishable by death. Rape and adultery will be punishable by stoning.
The laws and their punishments have raised concerns among human rights groups, who say they are a step back for Brunei.
“Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes international law,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement earlier this month. The International Commission of Jurists meanwhile has said the prescribed capital punishment is “a particularly horrific form of torture and execution.”
The new laws have also drawn rare criticism in Brunei, where citizens rarely publicly challenge the all-powerful sultan who has ruled for nearly five decades. In early February, following criticism of the Islamic regulations on blog posts and social media, the reigning monarch, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also the prime minister and controls the defense and finance ministries, issued a stern warning to critics to stop what he referred to as insults.