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Walter Armstrong Walter Armstrong

Would You Prefer a Flogging or a Caning With Your Cocktail?

1 Substance


Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Photo via

Starting tomorrow, the sultan of the itsy-bitsy nation of Brunei will usher in a new legal system that would make Osama bin Laden green with envy. The brutally repressive version of sharia law will do away with pretty much every activity we in the West consider “fun.” Even kicking back with a beer can earn you a flogging.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is worth $20 billion. He lives in a house with 1,800 rooms. His family has ruled Brunei, aka the “Abode of Peace,” for six centuries. Rolling in oil and gas money, the nation boasts the world’s fifth-highest per-capita income, free health care and no taxes. Now, at 67, the potentate seems to be on a mission to burnish his religious cred. “It is because of our need that Allah the Almighty, in all his generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilize them to obtain justice,” he told his people today.

Brunei has never been a wild and crazy place. Substance use is not a problem. Drinking or selling booze is illegal, and even cigarettes are hard to come by. As for pot and harder drugs, the penalty starts with 10 years in jail and/or a big fine for smoking a weed and rises steeply. The mandatory minimum for trafficking for a pound or more of weed is death.

Whether the “reformed” penal code is all largely ceremonial and intended to garner favor among the Malay majority is an open question. In his address, the sultan made the unexpected announcement that the law will apply not only to the nation’s Muslim majority but also to its 30% non-Muslims, including tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese, Roman Catholic Filipino migrant workers and Westerners in the oil sector.

The new iron-fist initiative has a three-stage rollout, with “mild” punishments (fines and prison) starting tomorrow, “moderate” ones (flogging and amputations)—in year two, and “severe” (death by stoning, for adultery and homosexuality) in year three. Is the potentate testing the international waters?

Neither the US nor other Western democracies have yet seen fit to raise much of a stink even though the UN’s office of human rights pointed out that “under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture…and is thus clearly prohibited.”

One thing is sure: MarijuanaTravels.com and other pot-tourist websites had better update their brief for Brunei.