Image of the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
On Sunday May 5, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah capitulated to international outrage and extended a moratorium on the death penalty for gay sex.
The punishment is part of inhumane, anti-LGBT changes to the penal code which came 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. Lesbian sexual acts will be punished with 40 whips of the cane or a 10 year jail sentence and theft punishable by amputation.
The implementation of the Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO) was condemned by the United Nations, Human Rights Groups and Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Actor George Clooney called for a boycott of Brunei-owned Dorchester Collection hotels and was joined by other celebrities including Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres and Billy Jean King.
Companies from around the world joined the boycott of the nine hotels, whilst high profile events withdrew from the Dorchester in London. Some travel companies stopped promoting the country as a tourist destination and selling tickets for travel on Royal Brunei Airlines.
The University of Aberdeen and King’s College London said they were reviewing the honorary degrees they have given to the sultan.
Hundreds of protesters surrounded the Dorchester Hotel in London on Saturday April 6, whilst intense social media backlash caused the Dorchester Collection to deactivate or protect the twitter and Instagram accounts of all nine hotels.
After initially defending the implementation of Islamic law, on May 5, the night before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, the Sultan announced that the death penalty would not be implemented under the new phase of the penal code.
“I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the SPCO. However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident,” the sultan said in a speech.
“As evident for more than two decades, we have practiced a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law. This will also be applied to cases under the SPCO which provides a wider scope for remission.”
Under common law, the death penalty in Brunei is the punishment for premeditated murder and drug trafficking, however no executions have been carried out since the 1990s.
“Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country,” the sultan said.
“They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals.”
Reuters is reporting that the Sultan’s office released an official English translation of the sultan’s speech, which is not normal practice.