Brunei, Sharia law in 10 years, Aceh may offer some hints

Brunei versus Aceh: the divine struggle to be ASEAN holiest?

– Brunei 2015 may be a precursor to Aceh 2005

– Both working towards implementing Sharia on non-Muslims

– Both seek to be the role models for Southeast Asia in religious achievements

A new kind of competition appears to surface between the Sultanate of Brunei and the Indonesian province of Aceh as the two Islamic entities race towards drafting legislation that would make Syariah applicable to non-Muslims. In Brunei, the Syariah Criminal Penal Code Order 2013, scheduled to go into effect this April, will be enforced on both Muslims and non-Muslims, the country’s Head Syari’e Prosecutor, Ustaz Hj Johar Hj Muhamed, said last month.

Responding to a question from the Russian Ambassador to Brunei, Hj Mohd Yusree Hj Junaidi, Assistant Solicitor-General at the Brunei Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), also elaborated that it would be an offence for non-Muslims to use phrases such as “Assalamualaikum” to greet Muslims, and offenders could be punished with a fine of up to B$12,000 and/or a term of imprisonment of up to three years.

Earlier this week, a senior Syariah legal officer from Brunei’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, Hj Hardifadhillah Hj Mohd Salleh, added that both Muslims and non-Muslims can be punished for donning “indecent clothing” in public. Offenders shall be liable to a fine not exceeding B$2,000, and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months. Shorts are specifically highlighted. Anyone who commit “indecent behavior” is also guilty of a crime punishable by a fine not exceeding B$8,000, and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. He defined “indecent behavior” as an act that tarnishes the image of Islam, corrupts moral standards, causes negative influence or upsets eyewitnesses.

Holy lands: Brunei and Aceh to emerge as the two holiest societies in ASEAN?

Brunei is the world’s fourth richest Muslim state after Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in terms of GDP per capita, but its economy is rapidly falling behind its Asian counterparts. Latest economic data from the Brunei Department of Economic Planning and Development (JPKE) reveals that GDP in the third quarter (Q3) of 2013 fell by a shocking 9.7%, making Brunei the worst performing economy in Asia. By comparison, crisis-hit Greece shrank only 3% at the same period. GDP of petroleum-dependent Qatar, on the other hand, grew by 6.2%, signifying serious macroeconomic imbalances in Brunei’s economy that need to be corrected as soon as possible.

The poverty rate in Brunei is currently manageable at around 1.3% or 5,472 based on the latest official studies from the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, but unemployment is rising fast. There are huge discrepancies in the Bruneian unemployment rates; while the official published rate is 2.7%, the country’s Education Minister recently stated that there are around 20,000 school leavers still looking for jobs, which would represent 5% of the total population. The true figure is unknown.

Human capital flight (brain drain) is reportedly severe. According to the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, under its Skilled Migration Program, where Australia takes in skilled and well-educated immigrants, there are now 2,626 Brunei-born individuals living in Australia, up 10% from the past 5 years. Amazingly, these Brunei-born immigrants actually outperformed much of the rest of Australia in median income, indicating that Brunei could had been a more economically successful nation shall there be better governance.

Based on the Australian report, the median individual weekly income for Brunei-born immigrants in Australia aged 15 years and over was A$705, compared with A$538 for all other overseas-born, and A$597 for all Australia-born natives. The average Australian population meanwhile, had a median individual weekly income of A$577. Brunei itself possesses the second highest literacy rate in ASEAN only after Thailand, at 96.8%. The workforce is relatively well-educated, but poor human resources management may means that most of them might not be properly integrated or optimally utilized into the economy.

The weakest link in ASEAN growth at the moment, Brunei’s economic decline began in 1998, immediately after the Asian financial crisis. Since then, the government has been unable to restart economic growth, with stagnated development for the past 15 years. GDP is still growing however, from US$6 billion in 2000 to US$17 billion in 2012, thanks largely to the oil boom, whose prices quadrupled from $22 per barrel in 2000 to $100 as of now. Oil and gas made up around 98% of Bruneian exports. A single unit of the greenback fetches around 1.27 Brunei dollar (BND) at the time of this writing. Supposedly, under a free-floating environment, Brunei’s current state of economy no longer can support such exchange rate, but the BND is being sustained by a monetary peg to Singapore dollar (SGD), the world’s 14th most traded currency.

According to the sovereign wealth center SWF Institute, in 1984, after its independence from Great Britain, Brunei inherited a reserves as large as US$40 billion, that accumulated up to US$100 billion in mid-1990s. Managed under the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA), it suffered huge losses during the Asian crisis, and BIA investment assets is now estimated at US$35-40 billion, back to the same level as where it was 30 years ago. By comparison, the government of Singapore incorporated Temasek Holdings in 1974 with assets worth S$354 million. Today, Temasek manages a net portfolio of S$215 billion. Another state-owned investment vehicle founded in 1981, the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. (GIC), holds S$265 billion in assets.

Aceh’s Sharia police rushed down the truck after spotting some women not wearing hijab

Seeking a diversion from growing economic stagnation, brain drain, rising unemployment and declining wealth, the Bruneian leadership steered towards religion for most of the past decade since 2000, causing the country to become Southeast Asia’s slowest-growing economy. As the next generation Bruneian youths hit by unprecedented joblessness, in October 2013, the Sultan of Brunei officially announced the upcoming implementation of Islamic Sharia laws on the kingdom of 420,000. The laws is applauded by its State Mufti, Ustaz Hj Awg Abdul Aziz Juned, who proclaimed that the Bruneian Syariah Penal Code is an example for the rest of Southeast Asia.

At the same time, to the west in North Sumatra, authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh is also legislating a bylaw that would require non-Muslims to comply with Sharia. Locally known as Qanun Jinayat, the measure would grant its enforcement officials the power to punish both Muslims and non-Muslims for “inappropriate” dressing and conduct. Preparing for the measure, the head of Aceh Sharia Enforcement Office, Samsuddin, said on Wednesday that his department is currently increasing raids on the streets to reduce Sharia violations, including those by non-Muslims.

Sharia police in Aceh interrupt a couple who were enjoying their time at the beach

Yesterday in Banda Aceh, 62 people were detained by Sharia police for indecent clothing, among them two non-Muslims who did not wear a headscarf. Since the new bylaw has yet to officiate, the women were allowed to go, but with a warning to start covering their heads in public. “We hope all women, including non-Muslims, will wear a headscarf,” said Samsuddin, who like many Indonesians goes with a one-word name. He added that both Muslims and non-Muslims living in Aceh, the only province governed by Sharia in secular Indonesia, should obey Islamic law.

Samsuddin explained that they (non-Muslims) should have been wearing the hijab as a sign of respect to Muslims in the Sharia-enforcing province, “non-Muslims are also required to wear hijab, to respect Muslims in Aceh,” he said, as quoted by news portal Prior to this, the hijab dress code is only applicable to Muslims.

Women cried after being arrested by Sharia police for improper clothing

Deputy Chairman of the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission, Imdadun, said that the enforcement of the regulation for non-Muslims is a human rights violation and called on the Aceh government to put a stop to it. “I call for the (Acehnese) government not to continue such a policy,” he said. “It will be a problem if other regions follow such an example. For instance, what if a majority Christian region like Papua forces its residents, whether they’re Christian or not, to wear crucifixes. This kind of policy is not appropriate to be implemented in Indonesia.”

Even though Indonesia is a Muslim-majority state, almost all the entire of its eastern provinces such as Papua, South Maluku, West Timor and Flores are Christian strongholds. The island of Bali is 84% Hindu, while a group of islands near Singapore is largely Buddhist. The religious demographics is in a way, resemble that of neighboring Malaysia. In Muslim-majority Malaysia, the eastern state of Sarawak is mainly Christian, while Muslims did not constitute the majority population in Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

Human rights activists have criticized the drafting of the bylaw, where one of the articles states that a person who commits adultery could face 100 cane lashes, or death. Overzealous implementation of Sharia has at times led to high human cost. For example, in 2012, a teenage girl in East Aceh was arrested by Sharia police at a night-time music show in the company of her male relatives for suspected prostitution. The accusation is not proven, but the shame of the allegation drove her to commit suicide.

Woman reacts after Sharia police threatened to shut down her shop for selling inappropriate clothing

In addition to stopping bare-headed women, Sharia police officers also stopped male motorists – Muslim or non-Muslims – wearing shorts, warning them to only go out in public wearing long pants. According to Qanun No. 11/2002, women must wear a headscarf in public and men are forbidden from wearing shorts. “If someone is found in violation [of the Qanun] three times, they might receive harsh punishment, such as being caned 100 times in public,” Samsuddin said.

Some in Banda Aceh are furious. “I’m of Chinese descent and not a Muslim, why should they force it on me? As far as I know the Muslim dress code should be only for Muslims,” said a man, Buddhist, who declined to be identified. In 2009, Aceh angered its Chinese populace by banning the Chinese lion dance. The explanation given was that it is too weird for local culture and Aceh wants to “maintain religious harmony”. The Chinese community described the rationale as “ridiculous”.

Sharia police stopped a family bike because the woman was wearing illegal pants

The “Chinese issue” has always been a sensitive one in Indonesia. Making up just 1.2% of the country’s population, the Indonesian Chinese allegedly control 70% of the economy, a factor that regularly make them the target of resentment among native population. Of the top 10 richest person in Indonesia listed by Forbes 2013, 7 of them, including the two Hartono brothers of Djarum, Eka Tjipta Widjaja of Sinar Mas Group, Anthoni Salim of Salim Group, Susilo Wonowidjojo of Gudang Garam, and Mochtar Riady of Lippo Group, all came from the Chinese ethnicity. Among the 30 richest Indonesians, 22 are of Chinese descent.

Dubbed the “bamboo network” by Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra, overseas Chinese community dominates Southeast Asian economies, with the wealthiest men from Indonesia (Michael & Robert Hartono), Philippines (Henry Sy), Thailand (Dhanin Chearavanont), Malaysia (Robert Kuok), Cambodia (Kith Meng) and Singapore (Robert & Philip Ng) all sharing the Chinese ancestry. It is especially intense in Thailand, where the four richest and most powerful business dynasties, Chearavanont, Chirathivat, Sirivadhanabhakdi, Yoovidhya, and the political Shinawatra family, whose members include current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, are of Chinese origin. In Laos, the 1-2% Chinese minority operate nearly 100% of the country’s entire commerce.

Man publicly whipped for breaking Sharia laws

Banned clothing include jeans, shorts, tank tops, tight-fitting pants and other fashion choices deemed inappropriate for religious reasons, which advocates say are needed to guard the natives from Western influences. Aceh has been officially governed under Sharia law since a peace agreement signed between the Indonesian government and Aceh rebel movement in 2005 that granted it special autonomy and rights to practice Islamic laws within Indonesia. The rest of Indonesia is secular.

Under Pancasila, the Indonesian state philosophy, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism are recognized as the 6 official state religions. The majority of Indonesians support secularism, that is the separation of religion from state affairs, and Aceh is widely ridiculed among Indonesian medias.

Sharia police entering a park for inspection on potential violations

From 1976 to 2005, rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) fought against the Indonesian central government to establish an independent Islamic state. Aceh itself practices a more conservative form of Islam than the rest of Indonesia, running into conflict with the secular policies of President Suharto. Both sides eventually reached a peace agreement in 2005 where Aceh would receive special autonomy from the Republic of Indonesia to govern itself under Sharia, the only Indonesian province to do so.

Economically, the province of Aceh has substantial natural resources, including oil and natural gas, with experts putting its gas reserves as among the largest in the world. Despite that, poverty is widespread at 19.5% compared with Indonesia national average of 12.5%. The United Nations reported that 77% of Acehnese live in rural areas, school dropout rate stood at a worrying 31%, and youth unemployment is rampant. Median wages is around US$100-150 per month. The policies of the Acehnese authorities has always been religious instead of economic-centric. In late 2012, nine Christian churches and five Buddhist temples were closed in Banda Aceh on the orders of the Aceh provincial government.

Indonesian group in Aceh protesting about New Year celebration

The Sharia governance also breed a culture of deep segregation and mistrust among various ethnics and religions. Last December, after a fatwa, or decree, from the clerical Ulema Consultative Assembly that said New Year’s celebrations or wishing someone “Merry Christmas” is haram (forbidden), a group of Muslim protestors rained down Banda Aceh calling for the ban on Christmas and the Gregorian New Year. City administration then proceed to ban New Year’s Eve celebrations for the first time, with Sharia police later seized thousands of firecrackers and cardboard trumpets followed by night raid on street stalls and shops selling the items.

Octowandi, the general manager of Hermes Palace, a famous hotel in Banda Aceh, was forced to suspend concert scheduled for New Year Eve. Despite that though, thousands of residents in Banda Aceh defied the authorities and gathered downtown to celebrate the occasion with fireworks and revelry. They were met with a force of 150 Sharia police sent in by the authorities. Banda Aceh deputy mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal said people who wanted to have New Year celebrations could get out of the province.

Sharia police shaving the hairs of those caught with indecent hairstyle

Apart from strict dress code for men and women, there is also rules guiding on how women should sit. In Lhokseumawe, Aceh’s second biggest city, the mayor has called on women passengers on motorbike to sit side-saddle instead of straddling as the latter is sexually suggestive, unfeminine and un-Islamic. “If a woman straddles, the sensitive parts of her body will push up against the man driving,” Lhokseumawe government secretary Dasni Yuzar told AFP, making hand gestures in front of his chest to signify ****.

“This is not allowed under Islam and is not in accordance with our local customs,” he said. A women passenger riding with a female driver too should side-saddle, he added, and women riding with men should never drive. Even though an official regulation is yet to be issued, police are already pulling women over and forcing them to sit sideways, with their legs dangling by the rear wheel. While some women are not bothered by the mayor’s call, many say they are being treated like puppets. “We’re just trying to get on with life, drop our kids at school, and go to the shops,” said 36-year-old Fauzia. “Why should the government care how women sit? It’s annoying,” she complained at the helm of a motorbike with her young son in front of her.

The proper way on how female motorbike passenger in Aceh should sit because the usual way is deemed too ‘sexual’

“We’re going ahead with the ban. There’s no resistance here. The criticism did not come from Aceh but elsewhere,” Dasni Yuzar, the city secretary of Lhokseumawe, stated in an interview with DW. “The government is only preserving morals. Women must not straddle motorbikes because it provokes the male drivers. We are implementing Islamic law here,” he said.

But criticism did come out from Aceh itself. Azriana Manalu, a rights advocate based in Banda Aceh, is skeptical that the new legislation has anything to do with tradition: “Protect which tradition? This is not about tradition. Our grandparents rode bicycles. So riding sideways on a bicycle wouldn’t be an issue. But we can’t say the same about motorbikes. This is about the safety of women as passengers. The law made it riskier for female passengers on the roads.”

Woman publicly flogged for breaking Sharia rules

The authorities of the district of North Aceh last year issued an edict forbidding women to “dance in public”, thereby prohibiting the traditional Acehnese dance. The incident has sparked protests by human rights activists and ordinary citizens, who describe the regulation as “bizarre.” The head of the district, Muhammad Thaib, claims that the way in which women dance could “easily fuel” corporal desire in men. And, according to the dictates of Islam, “this is not right.” Traditional dancers took to the streets to demonstrate, among them a local dancer and choreographer, Affandi, who says that such regulation is “unfounded” and beyond any logic. “If the authorities want to issue a regulation of any kind, they would do better to deal with corruption and economy, rather than targeting the arts and culture,” he said.

Illustration of stoning to death: man stoned to death in Somalia for breaking Sharia laws

So far, the Indonesian province has yet to practice stoning due in parts to the former Governor Irwandi Yusuf, who backed Sharia but has remained opposed to stricter enforcement, such as stoning to death, the harshest punishment for adultery. This is set to change however, as the new governor Zaini Abdullah, who defeated Yusuf in a 2012 election, has vowed to implement a “purer” form of Sharia. On December 2013, his government signed in a revised version of Qanun Jinayat that officially introduced the stoning punishment.

Legislative Council member Abdullah Saleh said the newly approved Qanun stipulated that all violators of Sharia would be tried under Islamic law regardless of their religion. Non-Muslim violators of the Criminal Code (KUHP) would be given the option to choose between a Sharia court or a regular court, he explained. But, if the violation committed by a non-Muslim is not regulated in the KUHP then the violator will automatically be tried in a Sharia court, without exception, he added. By this, it effectively means that punishments such as stoning and hand amputation would be applicable to non-Muslims.

Sharia police censuring a group of girls caught on streets for indecent clothing

In Aceh, Sharia remains a central component for every gubernatorial candidates. Ahmad Tajudin, from the Islamic boarding school Pesantren, said, “Thanks to Sharia, we will return to the golden days of Aceh as a prosperous region which was known due to the past glory of Islam.” Ahmad Tajuddin, a 49-year-old cleric, says “I don’t reject criminal bylaws (for non-Muslims), because clerics have agreed to them. I want Aceh as a model of Islamic Sharia for Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia,” he noted.

Sharia police raiding a barber salon for ‘immoral activities’, just like Brunei, the province of Aceh aspires to be a role model for the rest of Southeast Asia in religious faith

Indonesia’s Islamic militants who insist on Sharia rule nationwide see Aceh as a shining example, and as a result the province has become a magnet for extremist militants seeking a secure base. Going by usual circumstances, population living under strict Sharia have in the past, almost unequivocally shown to be more susceptible to religious rhetoric, and therefore more sympathetic to any ‘religious causes’ radical groups might harbor. “Strict enforcement of Sharia laws is not perfect in Aceh, but it’s a good start and all other provinces in Indonesia must follow,” said Farihin Ibnu Ahmad, an Islamist militants who has done two jail stints on terrorism convictions.

Singapore fears increased radicalization in the region may heighten risks of a terrorist attack on its soil

The regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)’s alleged founder, Abu Bakar Bashir, is currently serving a 15-year prison term on charges that include funding a terrorist training camp in Aceh. Another terrorist, Umar Patek, the accused bombmaker in the Bali bombing, is also charged with terror acts in Aceh. In 2010, Singapore’s navy intelligence alerted Indonesia regarding the possibility of increased terrorist activities, especially around Aceh, out of concerns that militants are being trained in Aceh to target the city-state. Singapore, Southeast Asia’s most important business and financial hub, thwarted two attempts from JI to bomb Changi Airport in 2002 and 2009. In 2011, Indonesian police arrested a terror suspect who exposed plans to bomb two of Singapore’s MRT stations.

Shootout between Indonesia’s elite police unit Densus 88 and terrorists in Aceh
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Source: Asian News

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