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Brunei adopts sharia law, others in region consider it

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Brunei adopts sharia law, others in region consider it | The Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Brunei adopts sharia law, others in region consider it
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The sultanate of Brunei this week becomes the first East Asian country to introduce Islamic criminal law, the latest example of a deepening religious conservatism that has also taken root in parts of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia.

Brunei, a tiny former British protectorate of about 400,000 nestled between two Malaysian states on Borneo island, relies on oil and gas exports for its prosperity, with annual per capita income of nearly $50,000 (29,715 pounds). It is the first country in east Asia to adopt the criminal component of sharia at a national level.

Run by Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, 67, Brunei has no national elections, but any discontent has been assuaged by high, tax-free incomes and benefits like free education and health care.

By 2035, though, Brunei’s net exports of oil and gas will almost halve, according to the Asian Development Bank. Efforts to diversify the economy have made limited progress.

The sultan, said by diplomats to have become more religious, announced the introduction of sharia as a “great achievement”.

From Wednesday, residents of the country dominated by Malay Muslims face conviction by Islamic courts and fines or jail terms for offences like pregnancy outside marriage, failure to perform Friday prayers, and propagating other religions.

A second phase comes into effect 12 months later covering offences for theft and alcohol consumption by Muslims, punishable by whipping and amputations.

The death penalty, including by stoning, will be introduced in the final phase a year later for offences including adultery, sodomy and insulting the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad.

Most of the laws will also apply to non-Muslims.

That raises concern among Western workers in the oil sector and tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese Bruneians and 30,000 mostly Roman Catholic Filipino migrant workers. About 20 percent of residents are non-Muslim, including substantial Buddhist and Christian communities.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights denounced the new system for applying the death penalty to a wide range of offences. Several of the penalties constitute torture under international law, said Emerlynne Gil, Southeast Asia legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists.

“A lot of these provisions and penalties discriminate against women. Stoning to death normally has a huge impact on women because more often than not they are found guilty of these crimes,” Gil told Reuters.

U.S. news reports this week said celebrities, including U.S. television personality Ellen DeGeneres and British actor Stephen Fry, had launched a boycott of a hotel chain owned by the sultan on grounds that the new laws criminalised homosexuality.

Brunei’s religious affairs ministry, which is coordinating the implementation of the new laws, did not respond to Reuters request for comment.

A Christian priest in Brunei contacted by Reuters said he was concerned by the development, but hoped the new system would be enforced less strictly than set down in the written law.

“They have been giving seminars to different groups to clarify,” said the priest, who declined to be identified. Authorities, he said, “seem genuinely concerned” at suggestions that the system would have an all-pervasive enforcement network.

EXPERT SAYS NO EXTREMES

Brunei’s top Islamic scholar denied any suggestion the system would lead to extremes, persecution or cruelty.

“It is not indiscriminate cutting or stoning or caning,” Awang Abdul Aziz was quoted as saying by state media after the law was announced. “There are conditions and there are methods that are just and fair.”

Brunei officials have said there will be a high burden of proof required to sentence suspects to harsher punishments.

They say criminal cases rose by a third between 2000 and 2008. Arrests for drug abuse surged 50 percent last year from 2012.

Diplomats say it remains unclear how the new system will work in practice and operate alongside the police and courts under the existing British-based legal system.

The religious turn taken by the sultan contrasts with a reputation for decadent excess gained by the royal family.

Late pop idol Michael Jackson was paid a reported $17 million to give a concert in Brunei in 1996 to mark the sultan’s 50th birthday.

Details of the lavish lifestyle of the sultan’s brother, former finance minister Prince Jefri, including owning hundreds of luxury cars and a large yacht – became public during a family legal feud.

Critics say the new penal code will give authorities expanded powers to stifle dissent at a time when palace officials are concerned about dwindling energy reserves.

“A common concern among the palace elite is that the gas is going to run out. The population’s loyalty has been bought with gas money,” said Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics who quit the Darussalam Brunei University in 2013 over what he said was a lack of academic freedom.

Responding to a rare outbreak of dissent on social media, the sultan warned in February that anyone criticising the new laws could be punished under their provisions. Strengthening the governing principle of “Malay Islamic Monarchy”, he said, was a crucial “firewall” against globalisation, he said.

Leaders of Malaysia’s Islamist PAS party, part of the opposition, say the move has accelerated their bid to install sharia punishments in Kelantan state, which they control.

A PAS plan to introduce a bill is sowing divisions within the opposition, with critics saying it would be at odds with Malaysia’s secular national constitution.

In Indonesia, some districts have sharia-inspired bylaws but Aceh is the only province allowed to implement it as law. The province has its own sharia police force and courts that enforce strict laws against gambling, promiscuity and alcohol.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Tourism

Saudi Arabia eases visa restrictions for US and European visitors

May Taylor

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Saudi Arabia eases visa restrictions for US and European visitors | The Thaiger

PHOTO: aawsat.com

American and European passport holders, along with those from most Asian countries, can now apply for Saudi Arabian tourist visas either online or on arrival, provided they meet certain criteria.

Prior to this, the only foreigners allowed to visit Saudi Arabia were usually those travelling on business, resident workers and their family members, or Muslim pilgrims on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.

In an attempt to boost tourism and diversify the economy’s reliance on oil, the Kingdom has expanded the availability of tourist visas beyond what was initially 49 countries. Visitors from eligible countries no longer need to apply for a visa at an overseas Saudi embassy but can do so online or on arrival.

The multiple-entry visa costs approximately US$120, is valid for a year, and permits a stay of up to 3 months on each entry.

However, authorities in the Kingdom were quick to implement a public decency code following the visa announcement.

“Immodest dress and public displays of affection are banned, but foreign men and women may rent hotel rooms together without having to prove they are married.”

A strict ban on alcohol remains in place.

Last weekend the South Korean band BTS became the first foreigners to hold a solo concert in the Kingdom, allowing teenage and older woman to attend without a male escort and allowing them to dance and sing along (in Korean of course). The band, in turn, turned down some of their ‘ab flashing’ and physicality during their record-breaking “Love Yourself” stadium concert in Riyadh.

The septet were invited to perform in Saudi Arabia as part of the Kingdom’s attempts to become more open to foreigners and diversify their income away from oil production.

SOURCE: Reuters

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Opinion

Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge

The Thaiger

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Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge | The Thaiger

OPINION: The Buddhist Times

Since its creation in 1996, Buddha-Bar Paris has been using the name and image of Buddha in it’s Bars and Hotels throughout the world. Typically the franchises use large statues of Buddha in their Bars and around dance floors and in restaurants similar to a Buddhist temple.

What makes the use of Buddha’s image in these bars most insulting to Buddhists around the world is that Buddhism does not support the consumption of alcohol. So to use the Buddha’s image as decoration to promote the consumption and sale of alcohol and as a prop on dance floors and in restaurants is especially disrespectful and hurtful to Buddhists.

Now comes a further insult with the Buddha-Bar franchise opening the Siddhartha Lounge at Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. (Siddhartha Gautama being the full name of Buddha).

According to the Knowing Buddha Organisation in Thailand what the Buddha-Bar franchise is doing is not only disrespectful but it is immoral. The foundation points out that “Respect is Common Sense”.

Buddhists feel hurt by the misuse of the name and image of their father, as people of other faiths would be if the image of Christ or Mohammad were used to promote bars and nightclubs.

The Buddha–Bar, restaurant, and hotel franchise created by French-Romanian restaurateur Raymond Vișan and DJ and interior designer Claude Challe, with its original location having opened in Paris, France in 1996.

Raymond Vișan, according to Wikipedia, had the idea of establishing the chain of restaurants and bars which came from his fascination with the Orient. However at the age of 60 Visan suddenly died of terminal cancer. The franchise was continued by co-founder Claude Challe and Vișan’s wife Tarja, who took over the reins of the Buddha Bar franchise upon Vișan death.

Critics of the Vișan’s and Claude Challe say that these self described artists and creators have created nothing but bad Karma and Sin for themselves. They suggest that Buddha-Bar franchise is a form of “grotesque Plagiarism ” which has merely hi-jacked a 2500 year old religion, using the name and image of Buddha, who imparts peace, compassion and loving kindness, for the purpose of selling alcohol and making money. As any case of plagiarism it is expected that Buddha-Bar and Waldorf Astoria will soon find them selves in the courts say Buddhims advocats.

Buddhist around the world are calling the Boycotting of Waldorf Astoria Hotels Hilton Hotels, Buddha-Bars and the music of Claude Challe, demanding that they stop using the image of Buddha and instead creat their own brand.

The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of The Thaiger or its staff

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Hong Kong

1000s flock to Hong Kong’s Chater Garden for pro-democracy rally

May Taylor

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1000s flock to Hong Kong’s Chater Garden for pro-democracy rally | The Thaiger

PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Last night, Chater Garden, located near government headquarters in the Central district of Hong Kong, was the scene of the city’s first approved rally since the face mask ban came into being about 10 days ago. So far, the face mask ban has been largely ineffectual.

A day after an explosive device was detonated during protests, tens of thousands of demonstrators assembled in the park. They were calling on Washington to approve proposed US legislation that could see some Chinese officials face sanctions.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act aims to review the territory’s special trading status and sanction those responsible for undermining the rights of Hong Kong citizens. It passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee late last month.

The Chinese Government has responded angrily, accusing the US of “interfering in China’s internal affairs” with the aim of harming its interests, and says the law will only serve to worsen the situation in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has been the scene of often violent pro-democracy protests for over four months now, as its citizens call for greater democracy and less interference from Beijing.

SOURCE: The Nation

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