Although the move was announced last October, objections to the new laws on social media have intensified. In a country where the Sultan’s word is final (and has been for the 40 years that he has reigned), social media is one of the few avenues for public criticism of official policy.
Recently, the Sultan issued a thinly veiled threat to his critics, "They cannot be allowed to continue committing these insults, but if there are elements which allow them to be brought to court, then the first phase of implementing the Syariah [Sharia] Penal Code Order in April will be very relevant to them," he said.
Brunei, a wealthy, small country next to Malaysia with a population of only 400,000), has high internet and social media usage.
Hassanal, one of the wealthiest men in the world, is known for his collection of 5,000 luxury cars and his gold-lined palace, the largest in the world with over 1,700 rooms. His fortune was estimated at $20 billion by Forbes magazine in 2011.
In a recent speech, Hassanal warned against globalization, calling his Islamic monarchy a “firewall” against negative outside influences – including the internet.
Hassanal made an official visit to the White House just one year ago in March 2013. At the time, President Obama called the sultan “my good friend” and praised Hassanal for his “outstanding leadership.” The remarks came before Hassnal’s October 2013 announcement that sharia punishments would be instituted in the country beginning in April 2014.