In a piece she wrote in 2014, well-known Bruneian journalist Quratul-Ain Bandial lamented the lack of freedom journalists in Brunei have to do their job, noting that although there is no censorship board that vets what the media publishes, journalists continue to live in constant fear of “overstepping the invisible line in the sand that defines what [they] can or cannot say.”

This fear is commonplace in Brunei, where everyone from journalists to the average person on the street watches what they say. Self-censorship is something that Bruneians are conditioned to practice from an early age. For example, children are sometimes told not to ask “wrong” questions about religion or the royal family; the signal from adults is that there are some things they just shouldn’t think too much about. This mentality has created a society where it has become the norm not to question the “wisdom” of the authorities. For those who do, the law can be used to exact a heavy price.

This mentality has created a society where it has become the norm not to question the “wisdom” of the authorities

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Matthew Woolfe is an Australia-based freelance writer, human rights advocate and the founder of The Brunei Project, an independent initiative that raises awareness about human rights issues in Brunei.

Nur Khalisah Ahmad is a Visual Artist & Founder of Kaleidoscope Studio (Ks.Bn), a social enterprise and creative agency dedicated to nurturing the arts in Brunei. Her vision is to inspire positive change through design and art. She works with NGO’s and artists to design events and awareness-raising campaigns about social and environmental issues. Reach her at