Image of the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
Amid international condemnation, inhumane changes to the penal code come into effect in the tiny Muslim-majority nation of Brunei, on the island of Borneo, from Wednesday April 3, 2019.
Strict sharia laws have been implemented in stages since 2014, and under this final phase, same-sex sexual acts and adultery will be punishable by death by stoning, whilst theft will be punishable by amputation.
Homosexuality is already illegal in the oil-rich nation, however, according to a statement from the office of the UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, the death penalty would in theory be applicable for offences such as sodomy, adultery, extramarital sexual relations for Muslim citizens, rape, robbery and insult or defamation of the Prophet Mohammad. Abortion would be punished by public flogging.
Bachelet says the new laws “would enshrine in legislation cruel and inhuman punishments that seriously breach international human rights law.”
“Any religion-based legislation must not violate human rights, including the rights of those belonging to the majority religion, as well as of religious minorities and non-believers,” Bachelet said.
“It is vital that the Government, religious authorities and a wide range of civil society actors work jointly to uphold human dignity and equality for all.”
Social media based human rights group The Brunei Project said the Brunei government was “rushing through the final two phases concurrently.”
“While this means that the Government is breaking its promise to implement the laws in three distinct phases, with a grace period between each phase, what is even more alarming is the secrecy with which it is doing so.”
The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, announced the phasing in of new Sharia laws in 2014, and the full implementation of the laws was posted on the Brunei attorney general's website in December.
The Sultan, who is one of the richest people in the world, "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," the government website states.
The United Nations, Amnesty International, Britain, Australia and New Zealand have called on Brunei to abandon the new laws.
Last week, actor George Clooney wrote a column for Deadline.com, calling on people to boycott nine Sultan of Brunei-owned hotels: The Dorchester, London; 45 Park Lane, London; Coworth Park, UK; The Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills; Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles; Le Meurice, Paris; Hotel Plaza Athenee, Paris; Hotel Eden, Rome; Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan.
“Every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels, we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery.”
“Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws. But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations?”
“Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens? I’ve learned over years of dealing with murderous regimes that you can’t shame them. But you can shame the banks, the financiers and the institutions that do business with them and choose to look the other way," Clooney wrote.
Elton John took to Twitter on Saturday to support the boycott:
“I commend my friend, George Clooney, for taking a stand against the anti-gay discrimination and bigotry taking place in the nation of Brunei – a place where gay people are brutalised, or worse – by boycotting the sultan’s hotels.”
Matthew Woolfe from The Brunei Project wrote on Facebook that "The Brunei Project does not currently support a boycott of Brunei-owned businesses and we do not believe that such an approach will be productive, but diplomatic pressure from Asian countries could help ensure the laws were not enforced fully.”
“We want to see more Asian governments coming out and speaking out on this. They have been too quiet.”
Amid the international outrage, the Brunei prime minister’s office issued a statement on Saturday, defending the implementation of Islamic law.
“Brunei Darussalam is a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country and, like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws. Brunei Darussalam has always been practising a dual legal system, one that is based on the Syariah Law and the other on Common Law.”
“The Syariah Law, apart from criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam, it also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.”