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: religion
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that a Malaysian High Court ruled that only Muslims could use the word “Allah” to describe God. Now, it seems, the government of Malaysia is engaging in damage control to mitigate the fallout of the decision. According to BBC, Prime Minister Najib has stated that christians in states of Sabah and Sarawak could continue to use the word “Allah”, particularly in bibles in the Malay language (coincidentally, parties from Sabah and Sarawak form a key part of the Barisan Nasional coalition). In essence, it appears Najib is attempting to add footnotes to the court’s decision after it has already been published. Given that courts in Malaysia are not entirely free from government influence, it will be interesting to see if his comments have any effect on future rulings on the issue.
Several years ago, I posted news about a case in which the Catholic weekly magazine The Herald attempted to use the word “Allah” to describe God. The government attempted to suspend The Herald and the magazine filed a petition for constitutional review. Initially, the High Court ruled in the magazine’s favor and struck the government’s action down. However, this week, the Court of Appeal overturned that ruling, deciding that the government acted within its discretion.
I had suspected that the original 2009 decision might signal a new willingness of the judiciary to challenge the government. Despite UMNO’s very narrow margin of victory in the general elections earlier this year, this does not seem to be happening. There is still one more level of appeal – the Federal Court – so this case might not be over. However, the Federal Court has tended to be sympathetic to the government, so it seems unlikely that it will overturn this decision.
Sadly, I’m starting to wonder if I should start a new section called “blame the victim” on Rule by Hukum. This week, two more Muslims have been arrested in connection to the communal riots in Okkan, near Yangon. One of the Muslim women allegedly accidentally bumped into a Buddhist monk, while another woman yelled at the monk for lying about the incident. The incident then caused a riot in which Muslim property was burned.
Of course, what happened to the monk is unfortunate. But the rioting against Muslims has gotten out of hand. Even more worrying has been the ineffective government response. According to The Irrawaddy, “Burma has seen clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in several states this year, but so far only Muslims have been imprisoned.” This year, the government has convicted more than 10 Muslims but no Buddhists.
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.
A few months ago, I mentioned an appalling incident in which an Indonesian mob attacked and killed members of a religious minority sect, the Ahmadis. Sadly, the prosecution of the mob leaders has only deepened concern about Indonesia’s justice system. While prosecutors managed to obtain three-sixth month sentences for several of the mob, they also prosecuted one of the Ahmadi victims for resisting the mob and refusing police orders orders to leave the scene of the incident. In fact, according to The Jakarta Post, that Ahmadi received a six month sentence, longer than several of the perpetrators of the violence. Of course, local and international human rights groups have decried the sentence, but we’ll have to see how the Indonesian government responds. One thing is clear – while the Ahmadiyah is a small sect, how Indonesia treats it has become a huge test of Indonesia’s liberal democratic principles.