Brunei’s all-powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has postponed the introduction of tough Islamic criminal punishments that were due to begin on April 22.

Brunei said in October that it would introduce Islamic law (Sharia) punishments including flogging, death by stoning and the severing of limbs for theft.

No new date was given but an official told local media that the law would begin “in the very near future”.

The United Nations has expressed “deep concern” about the planned change. “Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited,” spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville told a news conference in early April.

He told reporters these offences include rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery, murder, defamation of the prophet Muhammad, insulting any verses of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, and declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, he said.

“Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes international law,” he added.

Brunei has not carried out any executions since 1957, but Colville said that rather than adding new capital crimes to its books, the sultanate should be working to abolish the death penalty outright.

Sources: The Times of India; BBC