This is the first time Brunei Darussalam has made it into a post of Rule by Hukum (a dubious honor to be sure). According to Reuters, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has stated that the country would enforce shariah criminal law. Shariah law famously includes harsh punishments, including stoning for adultery, but in theory these are balanced by the high burden of proof and significant discretion given to judges. The version of shariah implemented in Brunei will be much stricter than anything currently in force in Malaysia or Indonesia, so Brunei will likely bear closer scrutiny from human rights advocates and lawyers from now on (including Rule by Hukum).
Category Archives: Islam
The Jakarta Post reported about a case in which a civil servant working with the Dharmasraya Regency Bappeda is on trial for expressing atheist views. The government is prosecuting him under the criminal code and Information Transaction Law for creating a Facebook group Minang Atheists. Moreover, the Constitution only guarantees religious freedom to the extent that individuals believe in a God.
Activists are worried that that the case has already gone too far. Sudarto, the director of the Center for Interfaith Community (Pusaka), argued:
The charges of blasphemy that brought against Alexander are based on ‘rubber articles.’ Their argument, which is exaggerated, is a failure of the Muslim community and our government to take care of other more important things.
Indeed, this is definitely selective prosecution at its worst. Alexander is already claiming he’ll convert back to Islam, but such a conversion sadly would be under duress.
Greg Lopez at the New Mandala blog points to a startling poll showing that over 70% (71.6% to be precise) of Malaysians would want to replace the Federal Constitution with the Quran. Lopez puts this in the context of an increasingly Islamicized Malaysia, although his conclusions are admittedly alarmist. It actually isn’t fairly unusually for Muslims to hold Islamic law in higher regard than their country’s constitution. Unlike secular law, Islamic law is religious law and inherently viewed as morally superior. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the average Muslim approves each tenet of Islamic law, or even understand Shariah. In fact, if we look at the rest of the poll, we find evidence for this proposition. Overwhelming majorities of Malaysians support Islamic law, but very few have actually read the Quran, and even fewer claim to understand its verses. In short, we shouldn’t read too much into the 70% statistic as it might simply indicate that respondents want a more “moral” law, not the specific provisions of Shariah.
Sometimes, as academics, we study the decisions of constitutional courts for their political and legal value. However, sometimes the most important impact of these decisions is on the lives of ordinary citizens. Sadly, a recent outrage in Indonesia reminds us that the decisions courts make can have grave consequences.
A while back, I mentioned a case in which Indonesia’s Mahkamah Konstitusi upheld the 1965 Blasphemy Law as applied to the Ahmadiyah sect. Now, as has been widely reported, less than a year later, a mob of Muslims attacks and stabbed three Ahmadis to death in a village not far from Jakarta. This has justly been portrayed as a black eye for Indonesia. The Economist accuses the government of “fudging” on protecting human rights. Yet, few commentators seem to have drawn the line back to the Mahkamah Konstitusi. Of course, the justices bear absolutely no blame for the violence – that lies solely at the feet of a small number of disturbed young men. Still, I can’t help but wonder if a clear moral mandate from the court might have sent a signal that suppression of minorities would not be tolerated.
In a recent speech, president SBY encouraged Indonesians to utilize legal means to resolve their disputes. I certainly hope more of his countrymen heed his advice.
Human Rights Watch has released a report critical of the application of Shari’ah law in Aceh, Indonesia. Policing Morality: Abuses in the Application of Sharia in Aceh, Indonesia alleges that citizen enforcement of the law has resulted in discrimination, abuse, and even torture. Of course, Islamic fundamentalism has been a controversial topic in Indonesia for quite some time. According to BBC, the head of the Sharia law department in Aceh, Rusydi Ali Muhammad, seemed to acknowledge some shortcomings, but also complained about the one-sidedness of the report. The real question is whether Aceh is an isolated phenomenon, or a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the archipelago…