Myanmar expats seek advice on avoiding ‘khalwat’

Quratul-Ain Bandialbru Syariah_Mya

MYANMAR expatriates in Brunei yesterday raised concerns of being accused of khalwat (close proximity) under the Syariah Penal Code, if they are found working too closely with colleagues of the opposite sex.

Under the recently-introduced legislation — which ushers Islamic laws into Brunei’s legal existing system — non-Muslims can be fined up to $4,000 or jailed for up to one year for committing khalwat with a Muslim.

Khalwat is defined by law as an unmarried man and woman isolating themselves in close proximity that “can lead to suspicion they are committing an immoral act”.

Myanmar ambassador, Yin Yin Myint, said several citizens asked about how to avoid being charged with close proximity.

“In the case of doctors, when he is with a patient in the room without a chaperone. In the case of university students, when they go for field work… How close is close? And whether working together very closely will be punishable under the Syariah law.”

Government officials conducting the briefing said as long as no suspicion has been aroused, men and women can work side by side.

“If they have to work very closely, we were told don’t create a suspicious situation like going behind a tree or far away from the crowd,” the envoy told The Brunei Times.

There are approximately 500 Burmese citizens working in Brunei, with some 200 employed as doctors and engineers. Teachers, labourers and domestic workers make up the rest.

The ambassador said the embassy was particularly concerned about ensuring semi-skilled labourers, such as construction workers, understand the new law.

“For those categories like construction workers, we are more concerned. Any misunderstanding or misinterpretation may amount to a breach (of the law). We want them to be very clear on the provisions,” she said.

To help citizens understand the Syariah Penal Code, Yin Yin said the embassy would translate the briefing into Burmese and distribute the notes to its citizens.

“Even for us it’s very complicated to understand, but gradually this kind of briefing will help them.”

The phased introduction of the Syariah Penal Code began on May 1, 2014.

The Brunei Times
Sunday, June 15, 2014

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