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.

Brunei adopted a new Sharia penal code in 2013. The new penal code has been deeply damaging toward the right to freedom of thought in the country and contains a range of provisions that restrict the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom of expression.

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.

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’).

Future phases of the law were planned to include more severe penalties, including the death penalty for blasphemy, mocking the Prophet Muhammad or verses of the Quran and Hadith, or declaring oneself a prophet or a non-Muslim. Apostates would be liable to lose all rights to the property they own and to custody of their children. As of 2018, the implementation of more severe Sharia penalties was reported to have been “delayed”.

However, by March 2019 the process was again in motion, with reports that the second phase of implementation was imminent

Amnesty International called the new laws “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 2014, the State Mufti, Abdul Aziz Juned, declared apostasy an offence punishable by death for any Muslims who choose to disassociate themselves from the faith. The State Mufti said that those who had made blasphemous statements or performed sacrilegious actions and had not repented would be liable for a death sentence. This declaration does not appear to have made it into law.