BRUNEI Darussalam will soon see the creation of a unique hybrid legal system where Islamic laws are integrated into existing civil legislation, making them Syariah-compliant.In a country that already runs on traditional religious grounds, this only convinces me that rather than sell itself as a modern, fair nation, it's taking five steps back into the Dark Ages. A senior council member commented that instead of having a seperate law for Muslims and non-Muslims, the two systems will be integrated into one Penal Code, to comply with Sharia law for offences punishable under the Quran. According to the text, there are six areas of punishable crimes - Theft and Robbery (for some reason, they are separate sections), Illicit Sexual Relations, Unproven Accusations of Illicit Sexual Relations, Drinking Intoxicants and Apostasy.
From what I am able to recall, these rules aren't anything new for the country. Corporal punishment is in effect in Brunei and as a child, I remember seeing PSAs on television regarding the punishments a person faces for performing illegal acts (mostly to do with drug trafficking). I do remember that unrelated, unmarried men and women weren't allowed to be alone together in public or private and there have been reports of couples being arrested for such "crimes" (and being cousins doesn't exempt you from this, by the way). Drinking was always forbidden for Muslims and given the society out there, I don't blame anyone raised in an Islamic household for not coming out if they stopped believing in Allah.
There have been complaints to this new system of laws, over the "draconian punishments" prescribed under Hudud (restrictions and punishments for serious crimes), such as amputation of hands for theft and flogging for adultery. In defence, Zuraini Haji Sharbawi, a senior counsel, points out that the burden of proof under Hudud is "very, very difficult". An example -
For someone to be punished for sex with a minor, there must be at least four witnesses to fulfil the burden of proof.Who does this protect, really? The minor or the offender? This can only be an advantage to the predator in this situation; where is the victim going to find four witnesses to their abuse? When sex outside of marriage has such a taboo in their society, who is even going to believe them when they try to report their abuse? In fact, even if they are brave enough to report their sexual abuse, if they are unable to prove that an adult has had sex with them through witnesses, the victim themselves will be punished for unproven accusations of illicit sexual relations. Sure, some can claim that this law prevents innocent people from being accused of being sexual predators, but this protects the abusers more than saves the innocent accused. And even outside of the whole paedophilia net, unmarried couples aren't allowed to "fornicate" either. And affairs are punishable by flogging. How is this considered right by any means? Suppressing people's sexual desires doesn't make them any more or less moral than anyone who sleeps around as long as no one is hurt.
In addition to this reformation, there will be a review panel to decide if every case should be brought to the Hudud court, or the Takzir court (civil offences with no punishment under Hudud). Forgive my cynicism here, but if the people employed on the panel are supporters of such a system, who support a moral code based on a scripture as opposed to a society's opinions, I don't hold a lot of hope for anyone who is unlucky enough to be caught drinking, not believing in Allah or for having sex out of marriage and wedlock.
This system has been cited as unique and special to Brunei, but I fail to see how this is anything more than a redressing of Sharia Law. At the end of the day, they are still using religion to punish people and I don't see how this will result in a fair and just judicial system.