Brunei has sent shockwaves around the globe with the announcement that it will be implementing the punishment of death by stoning for gay sex and adultery. According to the draconian penal code. those found guilty will face the aforementioned execution, which will be “witnessed by a group of Muslims” from 3 April.
The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also the Prime Minister, stated on the government’s website that he “does not expect other people to accept and agree with it, but that it would suffice if they just respect the nation in the same way that it also respects them.”
Abject horror has ricocheted amongst human rights organisations with the latest revelation. Amnesty International admonished the new ruling and asked for Brunei to “immediately halt” their proposed plans, which they described as “deeply flawed”.
“To legalise such cruel and inhuman penalties is appalling of itself,” Brunei researcher at Amnesty International, Rachel Chhoa-Howard, said in a statement. “Some of the potential ‘offences’ should not even be deemed crimes at all, including consensual sex between adults of the same gender.”
The small, oil-rich island, which neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia, consists of a population that is just over 450,000. An international outcry erupted when it first adopted sharia law – an Islamic legislation – back in 2014, which outlines formidable regulations with harsh corporal punishments. The country’s punitive measures have siphoned through gradually over the years, and the new provisions were announced in December 2018. It also includes a decree for the amputation of limbs for those found guilty of theft.
At present, fines and jail sentences are levied for anyone who has children out of wedlock and for those who neglect to pray on Fridays. In a predominantly Muslim state, alcohol is strictly disallowed, and it is against the law to put up Christmas decorations, which carries a punishment of up to five years in prison. Another law states that it is illegal for men and women, who are not related, to be alone together. Innocuous activities such as going shopping or to a park could land a person in serious trouble.
Matthew Woolfe, founder of the human rights organisation, The Brunei Project, told DW, ‘The laws do not only target the LGBT community. The laws go much wider than that. But certainly, some of the penalties contained within the laws will have a big impact on the LGBT community.
“I should point out that in Brunei, homosexuality has been criminalized since British colonial rule. People found guilty of sexual activity between people of the same sex face up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Although to my knowledge, this law has never been enforced.
“But these new laws create a lot of fear within the LGBT community. There is also a lot of pressure from within society itself because Brunei is a strict religious and socially conservative country. Society, in general, expects you to be heterosexual, to get married and have a family.”
Woolfe indicated that some laws only target Muslims and in the case of adultery, a punishment requires at least one of the parties involved to be Muslim. If two non-Muslims are engaged in an act of sodomy or adultery, then they will not be subjected to persecution.
He continued, “The Brunei government signed the UN Convention Against Torture in 2015, but they have yet to ratify the convention. However, they have signed it, and that demonstrates that they should be upholding the principles of the convention…”
“I don’t think there is a push within society itself for these laws and this is something that’s being decided by the government without any consultation with the people of Brunei. There are certainly a lot of people in Brunei that don’t want these laws and are very concerned about their implementation. It’s unclear exactly why the government thinks that the country needs these laws.”
Brunei was under British colonial rule until it gained its independence in 1984. Homosexuality has been illegal in the country since its British inception but the new decree means it is now punishable by death, which also applies to rape, adultery, and sodomy.
The Sultan of Brunei, who has held the throne since 1967 and is the head of state following Britain’s departure, was once regarded as the world’s wealthiest man until being displaced by Bill Gates. He currently has a personal worth of around $20bn and unlike other royal families, his money is deemed to be closer to a personal asset. Stories of an extravagant lifestyle and legendary spending habits have trickled through the media over the years. There have been reports of spending $500 million each year at the family’s favourite London jewellers, haircuts that cost $21,000, and paying celebrities millions to perform in private music concerts.