Who buried ‘The Brunei Times’?

Image result for the brunei times closure

This was back on July 1, 2010 when The Brunei Times introduced a compact version and I was so kiasu that I headed to The Brunei Times office to grab the first copy that entered the office. Photo courtesy of Rano360.com.

More bad news for press freedom in Southeast Asia.


THE Brunei Times
, the second-largest publication in Brunei’s small and heavily censored media landscape, has been shut down. The paper was issued an official order to “cease publication and operations on 7 November” just three days prior, leaving 110 employees jobless in face of an economy analysts have describedas “spluttering.

This is a significant loss to journalism in a nation ranked 155th in the world for press freedom, compared to Thailand’s ranking of 136, and Myanmar’s ranking of 143.


The last issue of The Brunei Times, which has been publishing since mid-2006, contained an announcement stating the closure was due to “business issues, reporting and journalistic standards that should meet the mark set, and also issues relating to business sustainability.”


However, unsatisfied Bruneians on social media are pointing to a different tale.

An ex-writer for The Brunei Times reported in Pakistani news that the real motive behind the shutdown was a complaint filed by the Saudi Embassy, after The Brunei Times published quotes from an unnamed source in a story published on 26 October. The article covered the increase in Hajj and Umra visa fees for Bruneian residents, with the unnamed embassy spokesperson describing the hike as a result of economic downturn from falling oil prices (click here to view a text archive of the now deleted article).

Although an apology was issued on 4 November, there are angry suggestions circulating on social media that the complaint provided the final incentive for government to shut down the publication, which often toed the line of Bruneian censorship standards — even though they may have annoyed authorities from time-to-time.

According to the report, the anonymous ex-employee source stated, “The government had been angry with the paper for quite sometime for its work but the Saudi Embassy story proved to be the final straw.”

Students and researchers are also mourning the loss of the newspaper, which provides an invaluable source of information on Brunei spanning the last ten years.

In a country where there is virtually no criticism of government and where voices are worn weary under the threat of harsh and repressive legislation, we may very well never know what, or more darkly who, buried The Brunei Times. In an age of wavering press freedom in Southeast Asia, this is deeply troubling, solemn news.

New Mandala

Wed, 9 November 2016









‘The Brunei Times’ suddenly closes after criticising Saudi Arabia’s Mecca visa price-hike

The unexpected announcement followed an article that suggested Saudi Arabia increased visa prices because of economic troubles


Photo: Courtesy of Rasidah HAB


A LEADING  newspaper has allegedly been ordered to close for linking the Saudi government’s latest visa price rises to its “economic problems”.

The Brunei Times, based in the tiny country, which borders Malaysia, unexpectedly announced its closure of all operations from Tuesday in a front-page editorial.

It followed an article published on 26 October, which reportedly suggested that economic problems in Saudi were the reason for a hike in the price of visas for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca.

According to a journalist claiming to be an ex-Brunei Times reporter, it quoted an anonymous official from the Saudi embassy who was said to have been “unauthorised to speak” to the press.

The daily paper apologised for the article on its website on Friday but refused to comment on claims surrounding its mysterious shut-down.

The statement read: “The Brunei Times is ceasing media and publication operations with effect from 8 November, 2016.

It also thanked the Brunei government for “bearing with us” and “extending the licence” despite “issues” surrounding the paper.

The “board of directors” also thanked editorial, management and operational staff’s “dedication, zeal, enthusiasm and tremendous effort they have put into their work at all levels over the years”.

The 10-year-old paper has also shut its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

A spokesman for the publication, which said 110 people were employed there, referred a Reuters reporter to its statement when asked about the reason for its closure.

Brunei, which has a population of around 420,000, is home to predominantly Sunnis Muslims.

The Saudi government recently increased visa charges for anyone completing the Hajj to approximately £410, up from around £75.

Muslims are expected to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

Economic troubles in Saudi Arabia have been well documented with oil prices falling as low as £21 a barrel in February.

The Independent

Wed, 9 November 2016




Indonesian Young Muslims go on ‘umrah’ for more religious experience

Indonesian Young Muslims go on ‘umrah’ for more religious experience

haj fedi


Corry Elyda

THE country’s young and financially secure are increasingly looking to balance worldly and spiritual values by concentrating on religious teachings.

As the Indonesian middle income bracket burgeons, with a subsequent surge in the popularity of travel, many young Muslims are opting to spend their holidays going on umrah (minor haj) for a more religious experience.

Rani, a 27-year-old worker at a state-owned enterprise, has lately been spending every free minute browsing the websites of umrah travel agents for her planned pilgrimage next year. Besides reading reviews on the internet, Rani also visits travel fairs in search of the best deal.

“After working for three years, I’ve saved enough to go on umrah,” she said.

Juggling work and life after graduating from university, young people until recently tended not to prioritize the pilgrimage, waiting instead until they were older.

But not for Rani, who has, she said, been dreaming of umrah since she first landed a job in 2011. She said she wanted to learn new things about her religion as well as bolster her faith.

“My priority is to go next year because I am still young and I still can afford to keep saving,” she said.

Rani said she saw nothing wrong with going on umrah early in life, and advised others to do the same.

“Exercising religious activities should not be limited by age or religious knowledge,” she said.

Rani said she would go with her mother. “My mother has already gone on umrah once, so she will accompany me, since I can’t go alone,” she said. Women who go on pilgrimage are advised to be accompanied by muhrim (Male family members).

She said that besides going to Saudi Arabia for umrah, she also wanted to travel to nearby countries. “My choice is Turkey,” she said, adding that she was inspired by her favorite Turkish soap opera.

Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken any time of the year. Unlike haj, umrah is not compulsory, but highly recommended.

For Indonesia, which has more than 200 million Muslims, the ever-rising number of would-be haj pilgrims on the waiting list is a major headache, and has seen a concomitant rise in the number of faithful choosing instead to go on umrah.

The peak season of umrah is during Ramadhan, with many wishing to challenge themselves by fasting in the heat of the Saudi Arabian summer, which can reach 50 degrees Celsius .

Given the promise of the market, many travel agents combine their umrah packages with traveling to other Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Palestine.

A basic umrah package of nine days costs around Rp 30 million (US$2,250), though the price varies depending on accommodation and additional destinations.

Dhanan Febrie Handita, 27, who went on umrah in 2014, said it was one of the most memorable experiences of his life.


haj n umrah


During the pilgrimage, Dhanan said, he experienced a miracle after arriving late to pray at the Masjidil Haram Mosque.

“I had to pray on the street like many other Mecca residents. I didn’t bring a prayer mat, but when I knelt, the ground suddenly became clean [of dirt],” he said.

Dhanan added that his little brother’s sprained leg was, moreover, healed in just two days by sprinkling it with holy water from the Zam Zam well.

Dhanan said he definitely wanted to go back to Mecca either for umrah or haj. “I advise Muslims to go when they are young – it is easier to complete all the rituals when you’re in good physical condition,” he said.

“Going on such a journey at a young age is an unforgettable spiritual experience that can guide you through life,” he said.

The number of Indonesians going on umrah has shown a steady rise. The Religious Affairs Ministry recorded that 36,324 people went on umrah between January and May this year, increasing 46 percent from 24,869 in the same period last year.

The ministry’s haj and umrah development director, Muhajirin Yanis, said around 67,000 people went on umrah last year.

Muhajirin said that as the pilgrimage had no age limit, even infants could go on umrah.

“I encourage young people who have the financial capability to go on umrah,” he said.

The Jakarta Post
Thu, 9 June 2016


haj ola


Former Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali: ‘I never disbursed the haj funds’

haj suryadharma-ali1
TEMPO.CO – Resigning from his job as Religious Affairs Minister after his indictment for corruption, Suryadharma Ali chose to ensconce himself at his home in South Jakarta. “At this time, I will stay home. I need to consolidate,” said Suryadharma, who is chairman of the United Development Party (PPP).

The previous week, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) had charged him with misusing the haj funds during the 2012-2013 period. Since then, friends and fellow party members have come to visit him, among them PPP Deputy Chairman Lukman Hakim Saifuddin and Achmad Dimyati Natakusumah and party elder, Hamzah Haz.

He spoke briefly to Tempo reporter Indra Wijaya and other reporters waiting outside, as he escorted his guests out the door. He admitted the case had become a ‘disaster’ and upset his family life.

Is it true you invited your family and friends on the haj pilgrimage in 2012?

I’m not ready yet to explain this matter. It’s a long story. Pray that I can overcome this burden.

Are you denying the charges?

What is certain, we did not reduce the quota for people to leave (on the haj) that year. That’s essential. Yes, there are quotas reserved given by the Saudi Embassy for a number of government officials. This is intended to maintain good relations between the two countries.

Who is authorized to determine which people can use this special quota?

That’s the prerogative of the minister, as regulated by the Constitution. But the interpretation and rationale can differ.

How is the trillion-rupiah haj funds managed?

That’s why I asked Pak Anggito Abimanyu to be the director-general of haj and umroh affairs. If I had recruited from inside the ministry, many of them would not qualify because most of them were trained in religion, not economics. Pak Anggito is an economist, he would know how to manage money. When I first offered him the job, he was shocked and refused it.

Who can disburse those funds?

I have never disbursed those funds. I don’t have the competence to withdraw the money from the haj funds. Why not ask the director-general for haj and umroh affairs. (*)

Wednesday, 04 June, 2014



An Indonesian citizen dies of MERS in Jeddah

mer arab saudiNeni Ridarineni/Mutia Ramadhani

REPUBLIKA.CO.ID – An Indonesian citizen with initial name of NA (61 years) residing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, died of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The patient has been hospitalized at King Saudi Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia since April 20, 2014.

“We have communicated with Director General of Asia Pacific at Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Indonesian Ambassador in Saudi Arabia related to NA condition. We will follow up the case closely,” Director General of Disease Control and Environmental Health at Ministry of Health, Tjandra Yoga Aditama said in written statement on Tuesday, 29/4/14.

Tjandra Yoga Aditama

Tjandra Yoga Aditama

Aditama explained that people must remember five important things. First, MERS CoV case is not only occured in Jeddah, but also in Mecca and Medina. Those three cities are visited by umrah and hajj pilgrims. Second, there is a rising number of the disease transmission from patient to health care workers. Third, an umrah pilgrim from Turkey was infected by MERS after returning from Saudi.

Fourth, the number of MERS cases is reported in Malaysia and the Philippines shows the increasing number of cases in Southeast Asia. And the fifth, MERS cases increase in significant number in United Arab Emirates (UAE), a home of many Indonesian migrant workers.

Anggito Abimanyu

Anggito Abimanyu

Meanwhile, Directorate General of Hajj and Umrah of Ministry of Religious Affairs, Anggito Abimanyu, confirmed the latest victim of MERS with initial’s name NA, was not umrah pilgrim. Yet, he emphasized that his office had warned umrah travel agencies on the infectious cases.

“We have sent warning to umrah travel agencies far earlier to be alert on MERS risk,” Abimanyu said.

Republika OL
Tue, 29 April 2014


mers world map

MERS nosocomial Cluster 20140418 table



Hajj Operational Surplus Rp 417 Billion

haj3“Director General of Hajj and Umrah Operation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) Anggito Abhimanyu revealed that in 2013 haj operations generated a budget surplus of Rp 417.9 billion.

Anggito Abimanyu

Anggito Abimanyu

This achievement, Abimayu said, exceeding the operational budget surplus in 2012 to Rp 122.5 billion in 2011 and Rp 170.5 billion.

The increase in the budget surplus was due hajj pilgrimage cost (BPIH) optimization hajj funds, expenditure efficiency, and reduced the risk of lodging and the success of minimizing currency exchange losses .

“This surplus is the largest number we ever got out of the hajj operations,” said Anggito at MORA office, Jakarta , on Tuesday (28/1/14).

haj2In 2013, the hajj operational income reached Rp 9.36 trillion. Meanwhile, operational expenses incurred amounted to Rp 8.94 trillion. The difference between revenues and operational costs of this, Abimayu said, which resulted in a surplus .

Budget surplus will be used to improve the service of pilgrims for the next Haj operation. “The money was not used for the haj and umrah operation, haj pilgrimage payment, salaries, not divided, but is saved back into surplus and will be used to fund the next pilgrimage , ” he said.