Bandar Seri Begawan: While the Christmas fever has by now gripped the entire world, the mere mention of the festival can invite trouble for anyone in Brunei.
According to reports, Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of the tiny oil-rich nation, has banned public celebration of Christmas, fearing that the religious celebration could effect the Islamic faith of Muslim population in Brunei.
"These enforcement measures are intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslims," Ministry of Religious Affairs of Brunei released in a statement.
No public celebration, decoration, wearing Santa hat in public and singing carols are allowed. Any Muslim seen celebrating Christmas or non-Muslim found organizing public celebration will face up to five years in prison or a fine of $20,000, or both.
The country's non-Muslims, who compromise at least 32% of the total population, are allowed to celebrate the festival, privately, within their own community. They, however, have to report about their celebration plans to authorities first.
Last year, officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs visited local businesses and directed owners to refrain themselves from participating in any kind of Christmas celebration. They also directed the staff to not be dressed in any kind of Christmas-based outfits like Santa-inspired hats or clothes.
Brunei, which imposed a similar ban last year, has been witnessing strong negative reactions from many citizens, who are taking to social media under #My Treedom, posting photos of their Christmas celebrations.