(Photo: REUTERS/Ahim Rani)
Brunei's teachers and principals are reportedly threatened with prison time and punishment if they teach or speak to Muslim children about religions others than Islam, due to the country's upcoming implementation of Sharia law, which will also apply to Muslim children who attend Christian schools.
Fides News Agency noted on Thursday that starting April, it will be a crime to "persuade, influence, incite, encourage a child with non-Islamic teaching," as well as to "expose the child to any ceremony or act of worship which is not Islamic or allow the child to participate in activities for the benefit of other religions," with offending teachers facing five years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.
The local Catholic Church said the restrictions will also be applied to Christians schools attended by Muslim students.
Archbishop Cornelius Sim, who has three parish churches serving close to 20,000 Roman Catholics, shared his hopes that the Sharia law measures will only be applied to Muslim citizens. According to the CIA World Factbook, Christians make up only 8.7 percent of the tiny 415,000 population while Islam, the official religion, claims 78.8 percent of the people.
Fides reported that Christian schools in Brunei aim to "guarantee quality education, free from all forms of proselytism."
Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah urged the Southeast Asian country on Thursday to support the Islamic law, calling it a "great achievement for the country, and not a backward or old-fashioned step," according to The Associated Press.
Under Sharia rule, Muslim citizens may face punishments such as amputations and stoning for crimes such as theft and adultery, though the punishments can also be applied to non-Muslims in certain cases.
Persecution watchdog group Open Doors ranks Brunei as number 24 on its 2014 list of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution, noting that the hostility comes from Islamic extremism. That ranking is up three places from its previous position in the 2013 list.
"Islam governs all spheres of life in Brunei," Open Doors writes. "By decree, contact with Christians in other countries and the public celebration of Christmas is banned. Christian pastors and workers are considered 'enemies' and their activities are monitored by government spies and police. Changing religion on one's identity card is impossible, and Muslim-background believers face hostility – even violence – from families, friends and neighbors."