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Brunei delays introduction of tough Islamic law

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei -- Brunei has postponed its implementation of tough Islamic criminal punishments that were due to begin Tuesday and have drawn condemnation from the U.N.'s human rights office and rare criticism at home.

No confirmed new date was given for the start of the Sharia penalties — which will eventually include flogging, severing of limbs and death by stoning — but an official told Brunei media they would begin “in the very near future.”

Jauyah Zaini, assistant director of the oil-rich sultanate's Islamic Legal Unit, was quoted by the Brunei Times as saying implementation had been delayed “due to unavoidable circumstances.” He did not elaborate or give a new date.

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah — the driving force behind Sharia — is visiting Singapore, and the government is believed to be waiting for the all-powerful Islamic monarch to return before introducing the sensitive legal code.

But the delay could feed perceptions of hesitation by the 67-year-old sultan — one of the world's wealthiest men — who earlier this year faced a backlash from the country's social-media-savvy citizens.

The new criminal code will phase in punishments, including execution by stoning for offences such as sodomy and adultery, severing of limbs for theft, and flogging for violations ranging from abortion to alcohol consumption.

Authorities have in recent weeks conducted a series of briefings for official agencies and nongovernmental organizations to explain Sharia.

'Firewall' Against Globalization

“When you're trying to make such a leap, issues will arise,” said Nizam Bashir, a Malaysian attorney and rights activist, who practices both civil and Sharia law.

“Once you start getting feedback ... then questions will arise that will give them food for thought that will not be in line with their initial conception.”

However, he said it was unlikely the criminal code will be scrapped.

Brunei currently has a dual-track legal system of civil courts along with Sharia courts handling non-criminal issues like marital and inheritance cases.

Authorities said a Sharia “declaration ceremony” would go ahead as planned April 30, but gave no other details.

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