May 1, 20914
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 US$50,000 (RM163,000). 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.