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Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law does not specifically prohibit torture, and the government has signed but not ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Caning may be ordered for 95 offenses under 12 different pieces of legislation including secular law, and it is mandatory for some offenses. The government has not implemented the second phase of the Sharia Penal Code (SPC), which includes offenses punishable by caning. The SPC prohibits caning those younger than 15 years. Secular law prohibits caning for women, boys younger than eight years, men older than 50 years, and those ruled unfit for caning by a doctor. Juvenile boys older than eight may be caned with a “light rattan” stick. Canings were conducted in the presence of a doctor, who could interrupt the punishment for medical reasons. The government generally applied laws carrying a sentence of caning impartially; the government sometimes deported foreigners in lieu of caning.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Administration: A government-appointed committee composed of retired government officials monitors prison conditions and investigates complaints concerning prison and detention center conditions.

The prison system has an ombudsperson’s office through which judiciary officials, legislative council members, community leaders, and representatives of public institutions visit inmates on a monthly basis. A prisoner may complain to a visiting judge, the superintendent, the officer in charge, or, in the case of female prisoners, the matron in charge.

Independent Monitoring: There were no reports of independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) monitoring prison conditions.

Improvements: In February, the Prison Department met with local NGOs to seek feedback on prisoner reintegration programs.

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions but may supersede them by invoking emergency powers.


The Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) and Internal Security Department (ISD) are responsible for enforcing laws and maintaining order. The Departments of Labor and Immigration in the Ministry of Home Affairs also hold limited law enforcement powers for labor and immigration offenses. Religious enforcement officers under the Ministry of Religious Affairs are responsible for enforcing sharia (Islamic law). By law, ministry officers have the same powers of arrest as police, but in practice, they exercise their powers only in cases of disturbing the peace or refusing to provide identification. The Ministry of Religious Affairs officers make arrests in cooperation with secular enforcement agencies. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. Civilian authorities maintain effective control over the police, the ISD, and the labor, immigration, and religious enforcement departments. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.


A magistrate must endorse a warrant for arrest, except when police are unable to obtain an endorsement in time to prevent the flight of a suspect or when a suspect is apprehended in the act of committing a crime. After an arrest, police may detain a suspect for a maximum of 48 hours for investigation before bringing the suspect before a magistrate. Law enforcement agencies respected and upheld this right. Authorities may hold detainees beyond the initial 48 hours with a magistrate’s approval. Police stations maintain a policy of no access to detained individuals during the 48-hour investigative period. Authorities reportedly informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities made information on detainees public after the 48-hour investigative period. Police may deny visitor access after the 48-hour investigative period in exceptional cases, such as probable cause to suspect witness tampering.

The criminal procedure code allows for bail except in cases designated as “discretionary” by law. There is no provision to afford pro bono legal counsel to poor defendants, except in capital offenses. In noncapital cases, indigent defendants may act as their own lawyers in court and some civil society organizations provided pro bono legal service to indigent defendants in noncapital cases before civil, criminal, and sharia courts. There were no reports of suspects being held incommunicado or without access to an attorney.

Authorities detained persons without a hearing only in cases of detention/arrest under the Internal Security Act (ISA). The ISA permits the government to detain suspects without trial for renewable two-year periods. The government convenes an independent advisory board consisting of executive and judicial branch officials to review individual ISA detentions and report to the Minister of Home Affairs. The minister is required to notify detainees in writing of the grounds for their detention and of relevant allegations of fact. The advisory board must review individual detentions annually. In May a local man was detained under the ISA for alleged links to ISIS.

In March the government published the Sharia Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), a precursor to implementation of SPC Phases 2 and 3, which include corporal and capital punishments. Since 2014 the government has deferred full implementation of the SPC, with only the first phase operating in parallel with the existing common law-based criminal law system. The secular criminal procedure code continues to apply to all criminal proceedings in sharia court unless expressly covered under the first phase of the SPC.

The SPC requires that detainees be brought before a sharia court within a “reasonable” period of time after arrest–ordinarily 48 hours–where a sharia judge will determine whether to keep the accused in detention. The SPC does not specifically provide detainees the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court.

The law does not provide specifically for an independent judiciary, but the government generally respected judicial independence, and there were no known instances of government interference with the judiciary in the secular courts. In the past, there have been reports of procedural flaws and bias in the sharia courts, but there were no such reports in the year to November. The sultan appoints all higher court judges, who serve at his pleasure.


Secular law, based on English common law, provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The ISA, however, which is part of secular law, allows for preventative detention in cases of subversion and organized violence. The sharia procedures do not specifically provide for the right to a fair trial.

In secular law cases, most of the rights of defendants were respected. Defendants in criminal proceedings are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of their charges. Trials are public and conducted by a judge or panel of judges. Defendants have the right to fair, timely and public trials, to be present at their trials, and to counsel of their choice. There were no reports of defendants who were not allowed adequate time or facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have access to an interpreter (if needed) free of charge, and the rights to confront accusers, to cross-examine and call witnesses, to present evidence, to not testify or confess guilt, and to appeal. Lawyers have access to the accused, although not during the initial 48-hour investigatory period unless the investigation is concluded and charges are filed.

The ISA establishes significant exceptions to the rights granted in secular law. Individuals detained under the ISA are not presumed innocent and do not have the right to legal counsel. Those detained under the ISA are entitled to make representation against a detention order to an advisory board, either personally or through an advocate or attorney.

In general, defendants in sharia proceedings had the same rights as defendants in criminal cases under secular law. In the past, there were reports that defendants in sharia courts were not informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, not allowed adequate time or facilities to prepare their defense or receive adequate interpretation, and not allowed to communicate with an attorney, but there were no such reports in the year to November.

While sharia courts have long had jurisdiction in civil matters where at least one party is Muslim, the SPC applies to non-Muslims as well, depending on the crime. The first phase of the SPC includes fines and jail terms that expanded previous restrictions on drinking alcohol, eating in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan, cross-dressing, and propagating religions other than Islam.


There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.


There is no specific provision of law for individuals or organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. By customary practice, individuals may present written complaints about rights violations directly to the sultan for review.


In 2016 the government published amendments to the Land Code that banned non-Bruneians (including foreign investors, permanent residents, and stateless individuals) from holding land via a power of attorney or trust deeds, and retroactively declared all such contracts null and void. The amendments did not provide for any financial compensation or restitution. These amendments, however, had not been implemented as of November.

The law permits government intrusion into the privacy of individuals, families, and homes. The government monitored private email, mobile telephone messaging, and internet chat room exchanges suspected of being subversive or propagating religious extremism. An informant system was part of the government’s internal security apparatus to monitor suspected dissidents, religious minorities, or those accused of crimes. Persons who published comments on social media critical of government policy, both on public blogs and personal sites such as Facebook, reported that authorities monitored their comments. In some cases, persons were told by friends or colleagues in the government they were being monitored; in other cases it appeared critical comments were brought to the attention of authorities by private complainants.

Long-standing sharia and the SPC permit enforcement of khalwat, a prohibition on the close proximity of a Muslim and a member of the opposite sex other than a spouse or close relative. Non-Muslims may be arrested for violating khalwat if the other accused party is Muslim. Not all suspects accused of violating khalwat were formally arrested.

On October 7, city authorities in Bandar Seri Begawan ordered a health and beauty establishment to close for allowing a female worker to perform a treatment on a male patron, an act prohibited by law.

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