Journalists face significant restrictions in Brunei. The emergency laws in force and other legal provisions such as the 2005 Sedition Act contain punishments of up to three years for reporting “false or malicious” news. This includes criticism of the sultan or the royal family (which controls a considerable number of press outlets, either directly or through business partners), and criticism regarding the national Malay Islamic Monarchy ideology, which promotes Islam and monarchic rule. Newspapers have to apply for annual licenses which can be refused without any reason. Journalists therefore tend to practise self-censorship, especially with regard to religious and political matters. The internet including social media can be used widely unrestricted and Brunei has one of
Asia’s highest internet penetration rates.
In early 2014, Brunei’s penal code was revised by the sultan. Among others, the code criminalises printing, disseminating, importing, broadcasting, and distributing publications “contrary to Hukum Syara”, which literally translates as “contrary to the order of Shariah”. The provisions apply to members of all religions. Failures to comply can result in severe punishments. The announcement of the revised code has led to a rare wave of online criticism among social media users in Brunei. In response, the sultan warned his citizens of negative consequences and to summon critics to court.