Monday 21 December 2015

Brunei Bans Christmas Celebrations, Imposes 5-Year Jail

Oil-rich Brunei has banned public celebrations of Christmas for fear of Muslims being led astray, its officials announced today.
In a country that last year controversially instituted tough Islamic sharia penalties - such as the severing of limbs - a ban relating to all Christmas references was issued following the holiday on December 25.
The tough restriction was put in place after children and adults were seen wearing clothes 'that resemble Santa Claus' - thereby promoting a religion other than Islam.

In April, Brunei was condemned after announcing the introduction of a penal code that will eventually include penalties such as the severing of limbs and death by stoning.
The tiny state on the island of Borneo is ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and relies on oil and gas exports for its prosperity.

Around 20 per cent of Brunei's residents are non-Muslim, including substantial Buddhist and Christian communities.
A spokesman declined to comment directly on the Christmas ban, but referred to a December 27 statement in which the religious affairs ministry said the act of publicly marking non-Islamic rituals or festivities 'can be seen as propagation of religions other than Islam'.

It noted in particular: 'For example, in conjunction with Christmas celebrations, Muslim children, teenagers and adults can be seen wearing hats or clothes that resemble Santa Claus.
'Believers of other religions that live under the rule of an Islamic country - according to Islam - may practice their religion or celebrate their religious festivities among their community, with the condition that the celebrations are not disclosed or displayed publicly to Muslims,' the statement said.
'Muslims should be careful not to follow celebrations such as these that are not in any way related to Islam... and could unknowingly damage the faith of Muslims.'

The statement also said that businesses that publicly displayed Christmas decorations were asked to take them down and had given their 'full cooperation'.
The latest move will likely attract more international criticism after a harsh new penal code was announced in April by Brunei's 68-year-old Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
At the time, he said: 'Today I place my faith in and am grateful to Allah the almighty to announce that tomorrow,Thursday, May 1 2014, will see the enforcement of Sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases.'

The change means people can face conviction by Islamic courts and fines or jail terms for a range of offences such as pregnancy outside marriage, failure to perform Friday prayers and propagating other religions.
A second phase of the law comes into effect in May this year covering theft and alcohol consumption by Muslims, which would be punishable by whipping and amputation.
The death penalty, including death by stoning, will be introduced in the final phase a year later for offences such as 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 the tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese Bruneians and 30,000 mostly Roman Catholic Filipino migrant workers living in Brunei.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights denounced the new system for applying the death penalty to a wide range of offences.
In April, celebrities, including U.S. television personality Ellen DeGeneres and British actor Stephen Fry, announced they would be boycotting the hotel chain owned by the sultan on the grounds that the new laws criminalised homosexuality.
The Dorchester Collection of hotels is owned by the Sultan of Brunei.

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