BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei : Brunei’s all-powerful sultan, stung by rare criticism, has ordered social media users to stop attacking his plans to introduce strict Islamic criminal punishments in the placid oil-rich kingdom. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah - one of the world’s wealthiest men - announced last October that Brunei would phase in sharia law punishments such as flogging, severing limbs and death by stoning beginning April 1.

The move has sparked a growing outcry on social media, the only outlet for public criticism of authorities in the Muslim country where questioning the 67-year-old sultan is taboo. In a weekend speech, the sultan issued a clear threat to the critics. “They cannot be allowed to continue committing these insults, but if there are elements which allow them to be brought to court, then the first phase of implementing the Syariah Penal Code Order in April will be very relevant to them,” he said, according to a copy of his speech published by state media.