Brunei, Egypt Clamp Down on Church Construction

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Under the gradual implementation of sharia law in Brunei, a process which started in May of 2014, no new churches will be built in the island kingdom located in southeast  Asia near Malaysia.

Reports from Brunei show there are three official churches currently in the country. An elderly couple quoted on the website Christians in Pakistan said the existing churches will be allowed to remain. In addition, informal venues and meeting halls used for communal prayers will still be allowed to operate, however, they will not be permitted to modify into full-fledged churches.

In 2014, Brunei became the first Asian country to implement sharia law for all its citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  The plan was to implement sharia in three stages: The first phase began with fines and imprisonment for sharia violations. Media reports specifically mentioned offenses such as “indecent behavior,” pregnancies outside of marriage, the preaching of religions besides Islam, not attending mandatory prayers on Fridays and disrespecting the month of Ramadan.

The second phase, which was to begin in 2015, includes physical punishments, such as cutting off hands and floggings for offenses like theft.  The third phase, slated start in 2016, incorporates executions, for offenses like adultery (i.e. stoning to death), sodomy and blasphemy.

So far, only the first phase was implemented. The second and third stage were held up by a procedural issue; namely that a Sharia Courts Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) needed to be codified for law enforcers carrying out investigations and prosecutions.  The target date for completing the CPC was this summer. The sultan is now targeting 2018 as the date for full implementation.

Elsewhere, as reported in Al-Monitor, in Egypt, a new was passed by parliament and signed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi concerning the construction and restoration of churches. Although the law was agreed upon by government and church representatives, human rights organizations say the new restrictions are in contravention of Egypt’s constitution as well as international conventions regarding freedom of religion.

The organizations charge the law sets “arbitrary” conditions for obtaining a construction permit for a church. In addition, communal religious services held in a private house would be illegal without a permit.

Abdul Rahman, a legal affairs researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said, “This way, the law would serve as a pretext to pursue people [in] to their homes, claiming that they are trying to turn their houses into a church without any license, while some prefer to pray at home. However, authorities insist that prayers should be held in the church, which has greatly contributed to the sectarian violence that has been going on.”

Rahman also noted “Egypt is one of the signatories of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, whose Article 18 provides for the freedom of religion and belief and mainly for religious practice that ought not be restricted except for reasons threatening the public order of the rights of others.”

In a wry comment on this contradiction, Atef Makhalif, the undersecretary of the parliament’s Human Rights Committee which reviewed the law, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt is not like other countries. What might apply to it might not apply to other states. Egypt is keen on being an active member in the international community, which is why it signs UN international conventions, but this does not require it to comply with them literally.”



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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org