The implementation of a new Sharia penal code, and the state Grand Mufti advocating death for apostasy and blasphemy, have prompted international criticism of this Islamic monarchy.
The penal code introduced in 2013 and implemented in full in 2019 includes death for insults to religion, and apostasy, as well as various other hudud crimes.
Articles 213, 214 and 215 of the revised penal code criminalize printing, disseminating, importing, broadcasting, and distributing of publications deemed contrary to Sharia. Non-Muslims are forbidden to refer to ‘Allah’ as their God (some Bruneian Christians do use ‘Allah’ where in English Christians say ‘God’).
Brunei adopted a new Sharia penal code in 2013, which was implemented in stages over several years. It contains a range of provisions that restrict the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The provisions include harsh penalties for not performing Friday prayers or observing Ramadan and expanded restrictions on the rights of individuals hold or speak freely about certain beliefs. (See “Apostasy and blasphemy” below.)
Then final phase, introduced 3 April 2019, was met with international condemnation. It includes death penalties for hudud crimes including apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and homosexuality.
“General offences” listed in the act include:
209. Propagation of religion other than religion of Islam.
210. Persuading etc. Muslims to change religion.
211. Persuading etc. person having no religion to become believer of etc. religion other than religion of Islam etc.
212. Exposing beliefs and practices of religion other than religion of Islam to Muslim child, or child whose parents have no religion, who is under 18 years. …
229. Religious teaching without written approval.
230. Contempt etc. of religious authority. …
235. Incitement to neglect religious duty.
There had been international condemnation of the planned final stage of the Sharia implementation.
“Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offenses contravenes international law.”
— Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Rights groups widely condemned the law. Amnesty International called it “heinous” and “cruel”, arguing that “Brunei must immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments, and revise its Penal Code in compliance with its human rights obligations.”
In May 2019, the sultan said that a moratorium on the death penalty would remain in force, but defended the legislation overall. Those convicted of death under moratorium conditions can usually expect in effect to serve indefinite life sentences.